Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Battle of Corunna - Part III

The Death of Sir John Moore 1761-1809 17th January 1809
After William Heath

My apologies for the unbecoming maudle of yesterday.

On returning to the battle of Corunna, there are some other points of interest.

Sir John Moore was a distinguished soldier and is widely credited for having introduced the light infantry creed into the British army during his time as a brigadier at the camp of instruction at Schorncliffe. This appears, at least according to "The British Light Infantry Arm", an extremely engaging volume by David Gates, who later went on to write "The Spanish Ulcer", to be an overstatement. Moore was certainly friendly to the idea of light infantry, but it appears that junior officers (whose names I can't swear to, as my copy is already packed) provided most of the inspiration on this count.

What did mark out Moore was his humanity and his belief that men were better led than driven There is an episode in Christopher Hibberts history of the Corunna Campaign where he describes Moore mortgaging the lives of two men who were due to be hanged. He stayed the sentence of execution conditional on the good conduct of the rest of their regiment. This appears to have worked, but I doubt it was a man management style that would have found much favour with the peer.

Moore has also been featured in Bernard Cornwell's latest work, The Fort, set during the American War of Independance, where he fights dastardly Continentals for the King with a very satisfactory outcome*. My old friend GA Henty has also given Moore the full treatment in his "With Moore at Corunna", a Henty I haven't read but that I shall have to make time for.

However, if Moore's fame is remembered in the 21st century, it shall be because of the poetry of the Reverend Charles Wolfe. Wolfe was an Irish poet, who was widely believed to have been the real father of nationalist leader, Teobald Wolfe Tone. He wrote his poem shortly after the battle of Waterloo, though it did not achieve real success until ten years later when it was championed by Lord Byron, who was presumably taking time away from other persuits.

The poem itself, "Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna" is a little gem and I have always had a great affection for the last line. The ryhme scheme and cadence is well matched the subject matter, the slow beat reminiscent of a funeral march.
Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,
As his corse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
O'er the grave where our hero we buried.
You can find the rest here.

And finally, just to drag this back to wargaming - a clever Johnny over at has come up with a new variation on the published scenario covering the battle. What's interesting about his version is that it uses the Breakthrough format from Memoir '44 and the specialised card deck from Memoir '44 - Winter Wars. I haven't had a chance to play it yet, but I'm looking forward to it - my previous games of Breakthrough have been very satisfying.

It just goes to show that young Cordery is not the only chap who can't leave well enough alone.

You can find Michael Dippel's new Corunna scenario here.

*Though being a Bernard Cornwell novel, it turns out it was those wascally Chwistians awl awong.


  1. Dear Joy,
    Most likely "The Father of British Light Infantry," was George Howe, killed at Ticonderoga in 1758 and beloved of the colonials.

  2. I have visited Sir John Moore's grave twice in recent years.

    Corunna is a stop on some cruises, and this gave me the opportunity to visit the small park/gardens in which the grave is situated. Interestingly, just across the road from the grave site is a small Spanish Military Museum that is well worth visiting, so if you ever have a chance to go there, try to get to see both.

    All the best,


  3. Jubilo - Thank you for the information, my knowledge of the Seven Years War is decidly sketchy. I have read that there was something of a reaction after the American War. Something along the lines of "well thank God that's over, lets get back to proper soldiering" where light infantry fighting was written off as an American oddity. I can't call a specific reference to mind however.

  4. Bob,

    I very much doubt I will ever be able to drag Mrs Kinch there, but I live in hope.

    On a happier note, Mrs Kinch senior is travelling to Lisbon at the turning of the month and has promised to return bearing port and cigars.