Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
The Battle of Coruña
By Robert Southey (17741843)
From The History of the Peninsular War
THE PREPARATIONS for embarking were completed on the morning of the 16th, and the General gave notice that he intended, if the French did not move, to begin embarking the reserve at four in the afternoon. This was about mid-day. He mounted his horse, and set off to visit the outposts: before he had proceeded far, a messenger came to tell him that the enemys line were getting under arms; and a deserter, arriving at the same moment, confirmed the intelligence. He spurred forward. Their light troops were pouring rapidly down the hill on the right wing of the British, and the advanced picquet were already beginning to fire. Lord William Bentincks brigade, consisting of the 4th, 42nd, and 50th regiments, maintained this post. It was a bad position, and yet, if the troops gave way on that point, the ruin of the army was inevitable. The Guards were in their rear. General Paget was ordered to advance with the reserve, and support Lord William. The enemy opened a cannonade with eleven heavy guns, advantageously placed on the hills. Two strong columns, one advancing from a wood, the other skirting its edge, directed their march towards the right wing. A third column approached the centre: a fourth advanced slowly upon the left, a fifth remained half way down the hill, in the same direction. Both in number and weight of guns they had a decided superiority; and they fired with such effect from the commanding situation which they had chosen, that the balls in their bounding reached the British reserve, and occasioned some loss there.
Sir David Baird had his arm shattered with a grape-shot as he was leading on his division. The two lines of infantry advanced against each other: they were separated by stone walls and hedges which intersected the ground; but as they closed, it was perceived that the French line extended beyond the right flank of the British and a body of the enemy was observed moving up the valley to turn it. Marshal Soults intention was to force the right of the British, and thus to interpose between Coruña 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 manuvre 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 enclosure 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 saw 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, 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 steadfastly 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 waggon 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 on the waggon. Sir John asked one of the Highlanders whether he thought the waggon 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 Coruña, weeping as they went.