During November 1808 Spanish resistance had collapsed under a tremendous French onslaught directed by Napoleon in Person. Madrid was again in French hands. Wellesley’s new friend, Sir John Moore, was driven from Spain in December, and though he heroically evacuated all but a few thousand stragglers from his suffering army and saved by Cadiz and Lisbon, he himself fell at Corunna on 16 January 1809.
Sir David Baird lost an arm, young Harry Burrard, Sir Harry’s son and Moore’s aide-de-camp, was killed, and General Anstruther, who had led a division at Vimeiro, died of dysentary.
-Wellington: Years of the Sword by Elizabeth Longford
Following the recall of Generals Sir Hew Dalrymple, Harry Burrard and Sir Arthur Wellesley because of the Cintra scandal, Sir John Moore was given command of the 30,000 british troops in Portugal. In November he began to push into Spain under orders to assist the spanish in repulsing the French from Spain.
It should have gone well. The French force in Spain at the time, including garrisons, was 75,000 to the spanish 86,000 and the british force of 35,000 en route. The french had been thrashed in Balien on the 23third of July of the year, 18,000 french troops surrounded by the spanish in an encircling manuever and then forced to surrender. A movement so simple that Wellesley, later, was won’t to say before every engagement, “Now this is not a battle of Baylen: don’t attempt to make it a battle of Baylen!” (Longford, pg 147) While for Napoleon, between this, the loss of Portugal and the Cintra affair, he was driven to some concern: “I see that everybody has lost their head since the infamous capitulation of Bailen. I realize that I must go there myself to get the machine working again.”
And so he did. Spain had fallen into revolutionary junta’s with the dissolution of the monarchy (temporarily) and the british army was stalled by administrative disputes and months of inaction had passed when Napoleon marched into Spain with 100,000 veterans of the Grande Armee and his Marshals. With Armee d’Espagne was drawn up on the Ebro with 278, 670 men he faced the spanish army of 80,000 and announced: “I am here with the soldiers who conquered at Austerlitz, at Jena, at Eylau. Who can withstand them? Certainly not your wretched Spanish troops who do not know how to fight. I shall conquer Spain in two months and acquire the rights of a conqueror.”
The spanish were defeated, but the british tried to make a stand and Moore and Baird had surprised Soult with a skilled Cavalry raid under Lord Paget, but failed to follow through.
Moore realized his danger and began a headlong retreat on the 25th of December to Corunna, marching a total of 200 miles. The Cavalry generally succeeded in covering the retreat, engaging in rear-guard clashes. The conditions were terrible and many died of starvation, exhaustion or freezing to death in the forced march in blizzard conditions. Moore had managed to avoid a battle, though, much to the scorn of the spanish and the french. Many many stragglers were lost due to bad weather, awful conditions and disorganization and when they did finally arrive in Corunna, few ships were there to receive them for they had been pushed into the sea by the bad weather.
Moore established a defensive position on the hills outside the town and managed to keep the french at bay with a force of his own while the artillery, and the army was boarded on to ships of the line that gradually made their way into port. He was fatally wounded and he sat composed and conscious throughout the seven hours of his dying after he was hit by a cannon shot, “struck in his left breast and shoulder by a cannon shot, which broke his ribs, his arm, lacerated his shoulder and the whole of his left side and lungs” he lived to see his victory, though, and when the english had left, Marshal Soult took care of his grave and erected a monument in his honor.