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Sir John Moore (1761-1809)

This article was written by Henry Manners Chichester and was published in 1894

MooreLieutenant-General Sir John Moore was born in Glasgow 13 November 1761, was third, but eldest surviving, son of Dr. John Moore (1729-1802), author of Zeluco. Sir Graham Moore and James Carrick Moore were his younger brothers. John was sent to the high school, Glasgow, where Thomas (afterwards Sir Thomas) Munro was his schoolfellow. At the age of ten he was taken abroad by his father, who was medical attendant to Douglas Hamilton, eighth duke of Hamilton, a weakly youth travelling for health. He spent the next five years on the continent, partly at school at Geneva, partly travelling with his father in France, Germany, and Italy. ‘He really is a pretty youth,’ his father wrote from Geneva in September 1774; ‘he dances, rides, and fences with unusual address; he draws tolerably, speaks and writes French admirably, and has a very good notion of geography, arithmetic, and practical geometry. He is always operating in the field, and showing me how Geneva can be taken’. Later, he was with his father at Brunswick, learning the Prussian exercise from a drill-sergeant, who taught him ‘to load and charge thirty times in the hour’. At the age of fifteen he obtained an ensigncy in the 51st foot, on 2 March 1776, and joined that corps at Minorca. On the formation of the old 82nd or Hamilton regiment (a lowland corps, wearing black facings, raised at the private cost of the Duke of Hamilton), Moore was appointed captain-lieutenant in it on 10 January 1778. He served with the headquarters of the regiment in Nova Scotia, under Brigadier-general Francis Maclean, throughout the American war. Moore was with a party of two hundred of his regiment and the old 74th highlanders, which established a post on the Penobscot river. They were attacked in August 1779 by an American force from Boston, when Moore, who was on picket, was cut off with his party and nearly taken. The American force was beaten and destroyed by Admiral Sir George Collier .

The Hamilton regiment was disbanded at the peace of 1783, and Moore, who had succeeded to a company, was placed on half-pay. In 1784, through the Hamilton interest, he was returned to parliament for the Linlithgow, Selkirk, Lanark, and Peebles group of burghs, which he represented till the dissolution of 1790, voting quite independently of party, but generally supporting Pitt. He appears to have paid great attention to his parliamentary duties as well as his military studies. On 23 November 1785 he was brought on full pay into the old 100th foot, and purchased a majority the same day in the old 102nd foot, which was disbanded immediately afterwards. In September 1787 two additional battalions were added to the 60th royal Americans (since the 60th royal rifles), and on 16 January 1788 Moore was brought into the new 4th battalion at Chatham, from which he exchanged immediately afterwards to his old corps, the 51st, in Ireland. The 51st is said to have been in a very bad state.

Moore was too good a soldier to set himself in opposition to the commanding officer when he found his suggestions were unwelcome, but on succeeding to the lieutenant-colonelcy, 30 November 1790, at the time of the Spanish armament, he set to work hard to bring the corps into shape. He spoke with pride of the conduct of the regiment, which consisted of about four hundred young soldiers, when embarking at Cork for Gibraltar, 8 March 1792. The men were not confined to barracks, but were told to be present and sober in the morning. Most of them returned to quarters at 9 p.m., and every man was present and sober when parading for embarkation at seven the next morning. The regiment remained at Gibraltar until December 1793, when it embarked, together with the 50th, as a reinforcement for Toulon, where Major-general David Dundas had just succeeded to the command. On arrival they found the English army had been withdrawn, and was with Lord Hood's fleet off Hyères.

Gilbert Elliot, afterwards first Earl of Minto, Moore, and Major George Frederick Kehler were despatched to Corsica to interview General Paoli and report on the practicability of reducing the French garrisons in the island. Lord Minto has left a lively account of the visit. A descent was decided on. Moore was engaged in the attack on Martello Bay, and commanded the troops that stormed Convention redoubt on Fornelli Heights, which he entered at the head of the grenadiers of the Royals. The garrison, old French troops of the line, fought stubbornly, and the affair is said to have been one of those rare occasions on which bayonets were fairly crossed. In May 1794 Lieutenant-general the Hon. Sir Charles Stuart, K.B., brother of the Marquis of Bute, succeeded to the command in Corsica, and placed Moore at the head of the reserve of grenadiers. Bastia capitulated on honourable terms, after a long siege, on 22 May. The siege of Calvi followed, in which Moore took a prominent part. He stormed the Mozzello fort, a regular casemated work, at the head of the grenadiers, and received his first wound from a fragment of shell. Calvi, which was the only remaining French stronghold in the island, fell on 10 August 1794, after fifty one days' siege. Stuart had by this time learned Moore's character, and appointed him adjutant-general.

Although Stuart was an admirable officer, there appears to have been much want of harmony between the military and naval forces. Nelson, who thought his services at Calvi, as senior sea-officer on shore, had been slighted by the military authorities, seems to have had a special prejudice against Moore. Writing to Lord Hood, during the siege of Calvi, he expressed the hope that ‘the general, who seems to be a good officer and an amiable man, will not be led wrong, but Colonel Moore is his great friend’. Elliot, the new viceroy, quarrelled with Stuart and Paoli, and through the latter with Moore. Elliot professed that he only wished Moore to be promoted out of the island, as he thought he was meddling too much in politics, which appears to have been a groundless charge. The result of his representations to the Duke of Portland was that Moore received orders from home to quit the island within forty-eight hours. Moore's letter to Paoli, dated Corte, 6 October 1795, in which he avows his consciousness of having done nothing deserving reproach, is in the British Museum. He arrived in England at the end of November. He was well received by Pitt and the Duke of York, who assured him that his military character was in no wise affected. His reception appears to have caused Elliot much annoyance.

Moore had become a brevet-colonel 21 August 1795. On 9 September following he had been appointed, with the local rank of brigadier-general in the West Indies, to command a brigade, consisting of the Choiseul hussars and of two other French emigrant regiments, which had been preparing in the Isle of Wight for San Domingo. While awaiting embarkation he was ordered, on 25 February 1796, to take charge of Major-general Perryn's brigade, forming part of the armament proceeding to the West Indies under Sir Ralph Abercromby. Through some mistake Perryn had sailed without his brigade; Moore sailed with it at a few hours' notice, and arrived on 13 April at Barbados, where he had his first interview with Sir Ralph Abercromby. He commanded a brigade under Abercromby at the attack on St. Lucia, and with the 27th Inniskillings formed the lodgment at La Vigie on 24 May 1796, which led to the immediate surrender of the fortress of Morne Fortunée. Abercromby left Moore in command of the island, where he was engaged for some time, under difficulties of every description, in warring with the negro brigands, who swarmed in the woods. He re-established order and security. An officer who was present describes him as indefatigable in his exertions, visiting every post in the island, living on salt pork and biscuit like the men, and sleeping in the open. The second of two attacks of yellow fever sent him home in the summer of 1797. In November Abercromby was appointed to the chief command in Ireland and asked for the services of Moore, who arrived with him in Dublin on 2 December.

On 1 January 1798 he became a major-general and was made colonel of the 9th West India regiment. His command consisted of a force of three thousand men, regulars and militia, including several battalions of light companies, which had its headquarters at Bandon, and was regarded as the advanced corps of the army in the south. He was present with Sir Henry Johnson at the battle of New Ross (5 June 1798), after which he marched on Wexford, defeating seven thousand rebels, led by Father Roche, who attacked him on the way at Taghmone. He arrived at Wexford on 21 June in time to prevent a continuation of the outrages of the previous day. Lake, with the main body of the army, reached Wexford next morning. Moore continued on the staff in Ireland until June 1799, when he was ordered to England to command a brigade in the force proceeding to the Helder under Sir Ralph Abercromby. These troops, forming the advance of the Duke of York's army, left the Downs on 13 August, and landed near the Helder fort on 27 August 1799.

Abercromby, moving southwards, defeated the French and Dutch on 9 September, when Moore's brigade formed the advance, and was hotly engaged. Moore was wounded in the right hand, his spy-glass preventing the bullet from entering his body. The force was augmented by the arrival of more British troops and a Russian contingent, and the Duke of York assumed the command-in-chief. In the battle of 2 October 1799 between Egmont and Bergen, known officially as the battle of Egmont-op-Zee, Moore's brigade had several hours' fighting among the sand-dunes, and had forty-four officers and six hundred men killed and wounded. Moore was shot in the thigh, but remained in the field. In a subsequent mêlée, when the French were repulsed by the 92nd highlanders, he was again wounded severely in the face. He was carried off the field in an insensible condition by two soldiers of the 92nd, whose names he never could discover, although he offered a reward of £20. Much interesting information respecting the campaign in Holland is given by Bunbury. When he was able to be moved, Moore was sent home. His very temperate habits aided his recovery, and on 24 December 1799 he resumed command of his brigade at Chelmsford. On 25 November he had been appointed colonel-commandant of a second battalion added to the 52nd foot, the regiment afterwards so closely associated with him.

When Abercromby was appointed to the Mediterranean command, Moore went out with him, arriving at Minorca on 22 June 1800. He commanded a division of the troops sent to relieve the Austrian garrison of Genoa, and after the failure returned to Minorca, where Abercromby made a strict investigation into the discipline and interior economy of the regiments under his command. Moore commanded a division of the army in the demonstration against Cadiz in October 1800, and afterwards accompanied Abercromby to Malta with the troops for Egypt. Abercromby despatched Moore to Jaffa to report on the state of the Turkish army there under the grand vizier. Moore arrived at Jaffa on 9 January 1801, and was met by news of the death from plague of the British commissioner, Brigadier-general George Frederic Kehler. He found the Turks an undisciplined mob, with their ranks never wholly free from the plague. On 20 January he returned to Malta.

In the expedition to Egypt he commanded the reserves, consisting of the flank companies of the 40th, under Brent Spencer, the 23rd fusiliers, 28th foot, under Edward Paget, 42nd highlanders, and the Corsican rangers under Hudson Lowe, with the 11th dragoons and Hompesch hussars attached. Hildebrand Oakes was his second in command. Moore's reserves were the first troops to land at Aboukir on 8 March 1801, and in the battle of 21 March before Alexandria, where Abercromby fell, were on the British left, and bore the brunt of the fight. The 28th greatly distinguished themselves, as did the 42nd, who captured the standard of Bonaparte's ‘invincibles’. Moore was severely wounded, and was sent on board the Diadem frigate. He recovered sufficiently to proceed up the Nile in a djerm, and resumed command of the reserve, before Cairo, on 29 June 1801. After the surrender of the French army in Cairo, Moore with his division escorted them to the coast to embark for France, marching and encamping nightly between the French troops and flotilla and the attendant horde of Turks under the capitan pacha. He remained in Egypt until the fall of Alexandria (2 September 1801). On returning home, he received the thanks of parliament and the Turkish order of the Crescent.

Moore, while unemployed, spent most of his time in London with his family. On 18 January 1803 the 52nd regiment, of which he had become colonel on 8 May 1801, at the death of General Cyrus Trapaud, was ordered to be formed into a light corps. On the renewal of the war with France, Moore was nominated to a brigade, first at Brighton, and afterwards at Canterbury. On 9 July 1803 he was appointed to a brigade, consisting at first of the 4th king's own, 52nd, 59th, 70th, and 95th rifles, which encamped on Shorncliffe, above Sandgate; the brigade was part of the division commanded by General David Dundas , with Lord Chatham and Sir James Murray Pulteney as lieutenant-generals, the headquarters being at Chatham, and afterwards at Canterbury. The French armies intended for the invasion of England then lay encamped at Boulogne. Some of the regiments in Moore's brigade were shifted, and the 43rd, which had been in an unsatisfactory state, was put under him, and ordered to be trained as a light corps.

While at Minorca in 1800 Moore's attention had been directed by Abercromby to the need in the British army of a light infantry corps whose training should correspond with that of the French voltigeurs. A few battalions so trained under sensible officers might, it was suggested, serve as a model for the rest of the army . He had moreover noticed the system adopted by Major Kenneth Mackenzie, afterwards Sir Kenneth Douglas , then in temporary command of the 90th foot at Minorca. This consisted in breaking up the battalion into skirmishers, supports, and reserve, on the plan afterwards adopted for light movements throughout the army. ‘He was struck with its excellence, and with his usual openness and candour expressed his surprise that it had never before suggested itself to his mind’. At Shorncliffe he now introduced not only the system of drill and maneuvre based upon these principles, but the admirable system of discipline and interior economy which laid the foundation of the famous Peninsular light division, and has been maintained ever since in the regiments trained under him.

On 14 November 1804 Moore was made K.B. He chose as supporters of his arms ‘a light infantry soldier, as being colonel of the first light infantry regiment, and a 92nd highlander, in gratitude and acknowledgment of two soldiers of that regiment who saved my life in Holland, 2 October 1799’. Moore's officers presented him with a diamond star of the Bath, worth 350 guineas. He became lieutenant-general on 2 November 1805, but still had his headquarters at Shorncliffe. Moore commanded in Kent, and Lieutenant-general Charles Lennox, afterwards Duke of Richmond , in Sussex, under David Dundas, who was still at Canterbury. Moore's reputation now stood very high. Pitt often went over from Walmer to Shorncliffe to consult him, and when, in 1806, it was proposed to send Moore as commander-in-chief to India, Charles James Fox protested against sending so skilled a general far away in the existing position of European affairs.

In June 1806 Moore was ordered to Sicily to serve as second in command under General Henry Edward Fox , who was appointed to the Mediterranean command, and accredited as ambassador to the court of Palermo. When Fox returned home in ill-health, Moore held the Mediterranean command. Bunbury gives many interesting particulars of the period, of the intrigues of the Neapolitan court, and of the luckless expedition to Egypt under command of Major-general Alexander Mackenzie Fraser. In September 1807 Moore received orders from home to leave the command in Sicily to John Coape Sherbrooke, and to proceed to Gibraltar with seven thousand troops for the assistance of Portugal against the French invasion under Junot. The Portuguese royal family declined assistance and withdrew to Brazil, and Moore, in accordance with his instructions, brought the troops home to England without landing them.

In May 1808 Moore was sent to Sweden to assist the king, Gustavus IV, who was menaced by France, Russia, and Denmark. He arrived at Gothenburg on 17 May. He was not allowed to land his troops, but was summoned to Stockholm to confer with Gustavus, whom he found crazily bent on schemes of conquest. The king proposed that the British, with some Swedish troops, should seize Zealand, and afterwards that the British should go to Finland to fight the Russians. Moore objected that his force was insufficient for such projects, on which Gustavus ordered him not to leave the capital. He made his escape to Gothenburg in the guise of a peasant, and returned with the troops to England. Moore appeared to think that he had been sent on a wild-goose chase for some party purpose, and in a private letter referred to the service as the most painful on which he had been employed. On arrival he was summoned to London, and told that he was to go out to Portugal to serve under Sir Hew Dalrymple and Sir Harry Burrard. He expressed himself very strongly to Lord Castlereagh at this treatment —that, after holding chief commands in Sicily and Sweden, he should be sent to serve without option under other officers, one of whom had never been employed as a general in the field. But handing over the troops to Burrard, he sailed with him, as second in command, at the end of July 1808. From a frigate met off Finisterre they learned that Sir Arthur Wellesley had landed in Mondego Bay. Burrard pushed on to Oporto, leaving Moore with the troops off Vigo, whence he moved down to Mondego Bay and prepared to land.

Moore did not join the army until the convention of Cintra had been signed. He had an interview with Sir Arthur Wellesley, who was going home. Sir Hew Dalrymple resigned soon afterwards, and Sir Harry Burrard was recalled, leaving Moore, then at Lisbon, as commander-in-chief. A letter from Lord Castlereagh, dated 25 September 1808, informed Moore that an army of not less than thirty-five thousand men was to be employed under his orders in the north of Spain, assisting the Spanish government; fifteen thousand men would be sent out to join him by way of Corunna. It was left to his judgment whether he should fix some point of rendezvous on the frontier of Leon or Galicia, or transport his troops by sea from Lisbon to Corunna. He chose the land route. He was faced by administrative difficulties of every kind, and appears to have had from the outset a melancholy foreboding of the end. He received a letter from Sir Arthur Wellesley, who appears to have taken on himself the part of a peacemaker, dated London, 8 October 1808, saying:

I told Lord Castlereagh that you thought that the government had not treated you well, and that you felt it incumbent on you to express your sentiments on that treatment, but that after you had done so you thought no more of the matter, and that it would be found that you would serve as cordially and zealously in any situation in which you might be employed as if nothing had ever passed. Lord Castlereagh said that he never entertained the slightest doubt of it, and his only object respecting you had been to employ you in the manner in which your services were most likely to be useful to the country.

Moore left Lisbon on 27 October 1808, most of the troops being already on their way to Burgos. He was assured that he would receive the support of sixty to seventy thousand Spanish troops, under Blake and Romana. George Canning told the Marquis Wellesley that Moore was actually offered the chief command of the Spanish armies, but declined it. Almeida was reached on 8 November; on 11 November the British entered Spain; at Ciudad Rodrigo they were greeted with the greatest enthusiasm; on 13 November they reached Salamanca.

Moore's services, great and varied as they had been, had not apparently given him the experience in dealing with administrative difficulties in the field that Wellington gained in his Indian campaigns; while John Hookham Frere, then British plenipotentiary in Spain, was injudicious and meddlesome. At the end of November Moore found that the promises of support from the Spaniards were worthless. The Spanish armies were everywhere beaten in detail. His own difficulties, especially as regarded money, were accumulating daily. He decided to retreat into Portugal, ordering Hope, who had moved into Spain by a different route from Lisbon, to join him at once, and Baird, who was advancing, to return to Corunna. He did not propose to abandon the Spaniards altogether, but thought they could be aided by action elsewhere. On 1 December he wrote to Sir Charles Stuart at Madrid that money must be had for the troops, even if it cost a hundred per cent. In reply he received an answer softening down the news of the latest Spanish defeat, and accompanied by a request from the whole junta that he would move to the defence of Madrid, which was prepared to make an energetic defence. The very next day, unknown to Moore and Frere, the Prince of Castelfranco and Don Thomas Morla were negotiating with the French to give up the city. Moore countermanded the retreat, believing that the altered circumstances justified his making a diversion in favour of the Spaniards by attacking Soult on the Carrion. He effected a junction with Baird at Majorga on 20 December. On 21 December the British army, twenty-nine thousand strong — admirable troops, as the historian Napier describes them, robust, well-disciplined, needing but a campaign or two to make them perfect — was at Toro.

On 23 December Moore advanced with his whole force. The infantry was within two hours' march of the enemy when an intercepted letter brought the news that Napoleon in person had entered Madrid three weeks before, and that the French, who altogether had three hundred thousand men in Spain, had already cut off Moore's line of retreat into Portugal. It was resolved to retire at once on Vigo or Corunna. Thereupon commenced the historic retreat, over 250 miles of difficult country in midwinter, ending with the arrival of the dispirited army at Corunna on 13 January 1809. A vivid description is given by the historian Napier. On 16 January the transports had arrived, the embarkation had begun, when the French were seen descending the heights in three columns, the brunt of the attack falling on Lord William Bentinck's brigade in the British right wing. Moore, who had just been applauding a gallant charge of the 50th, under Majors Charles James Napier and Stanhope, was close to the 42nd highlanders, when a grape-shot struck him from his horse, shattering his left shoulder. A staff-officer, Henry Hardinge, afterwards Lord Hardinge, went to his assistance, and a sergeant and two men of the 42nd carried him in a blanket to his quarters in the town, where he was laid on a mattress, and the news was presently brought that the French were beaten and in full retreat. His thoughtfulness for others rather than himself continued to the last; but in his latest moments of consciousness he expressed a hope that England would consider that he had done his duty; that his country would do him justice. At evening he died. A question arose whether his remains should be brought home, but it was decided to bury him in the citadel, beside his friend Robert Anstruther , who had died the day the army reached Corunna. At midnight the officers of his staff carried his body to the quarters of his friend Colonel Thomas Graham, afterwards Lord Lynedoch , in the citadel. Some soldiers of the 9th foot dug his grave; and as the dark January morning broke, and the French guns on the heights reopened fire on the harbour, he was hastily laid to rest ‘with his martial cloak around him.’ The burial service was read by the Rev. J. H. Symons, then chaplain of the brigade of guards, and afterwards vicar of St. Martin's, Hereford. An authenticated account of the burial is given in James Carrick Moore's ‘Narrative of the Campaign in Spain in 1809.’ The army sailed for England the same day.

The historian Napier writes: ‘The guns of the enemy paid his funeral honours, and Soult, with a noble feeling of regard for his valour, raised a monument to his memory. Soult bore generous witness to his opponent's skill, but the statement as to the monument requires correction. Howard Douglas has shown that it was erected by the Spanish commander the Marquis de la Romana. Romana returned to Corunna with his army, when the French abandoned Galicia on entering Portugal. Seeing the unmarked grave, Romana had a memorial, in the form of a broken shaft of a column, of wood, painted to resemble stone, raised over it upon a pediment of real guns and shells. On its completion he attended in state, and, in presence of the civic authorities of the place and the whole garrison, unveiled the column, and wrote on it in black chalk, with his own hand:—

A la Gloria del Excelentísimo Señor Don
Juan Moore,
General en Gefe del Exércitos Británicos,
Y á sus Valientes Soldados,
La España Agradecida,
Batalla de Elvinas, 16 Enero 1809.

Howard Douglas brought the matter under the notice of the prince regent, and on his return to Spain, late in 1811, was ordered to convert the memorial into a permanent one, with the aid of slabs of marble, to receive a Latin inscription by Dr. Samuel Parr. This was done. It was restored by Consul Bartlett in 1834, and the oval enclosure was laid out as a pleasure-ground, chiefly through the exertions of General Mazaredo. ‘The railing round the plain granite urn that now marks the site of the grave makes it difficult to read the inscriptions in Latin, English, and Spanish on the sides of the tomb’.

Much crude and ungenerous criticism was evoked by the news of Moore's failure, but popular feeling soon accepted the view that his life was sacrificed in an enterprise which, under the circumstances, was impracticable. Parliament passed a vote of thanks to his troops, and ordered a public monument to be erected to him in St. Paul's Cathedral. A motion on 19 February for a parliamentary inquiry into the conduct of the campaign was defeated by 220 votes to 127 . A horse-guards order recorded his many services to his country. His native city, Glasgow, erected a monument to him, in the shape of a bronze statue in George Square, at a cost of over £3,000; and the Rev. Charles Wolfe published his ‘Funeral of Sir John Moore,’ which has remained one of the most popular poems in the language.

Moore died unmarried. Bruce, the son-in-law and biographer of the historian Napier, states that when Moore was in Sicily he contemplated making an offer of marriage to Miss Caroline Fox, daughter of General Henry Edward Fox , but was deterred by a chivalrous feeling of doubt that the disparity of age and his high position might influence her decision unwisely for her contentment in after life. The offer was never made, and in 1811 Miss Fox became the wife of the future Sir William Napier.

Moore, who possessed a very winning address, was in person tall and graceful, and his features, even when worn with service, were eminently handsome. With some of Moore's friends it was the fashion to call him an ‘unlucky man,’ chiefly because he was so often wounded in action. The epithet was once applied to him by Wellington. Bunbury says: ‘Everything in Moore was real, solid, and unbending. He was penetrating and reflective. His manner was singularly agreeable to those whom he liked, but to those he did not esteem his bearing was severe’. No British commander was ever more popular with his officers, none have left a more lasting impress on the troops trained under them. In the Peninsular epoch, and long after, to have been ‘one of Sir John Moore's men’ carried with it a prestige quite sui generis. Napoleon said of him: ‘His talents and firmness alone saved the British army [in Spain] from destruction; he was a brave soldier, an excellent officer, and a man of talent. He made a few mistakes, which were probably inseparable from the difficulties with which he was surrounded, and caused perhaps by his information having misled him.

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