Monday, 1 July 2013

Sir John Moore's Campaign in Spain

The book ‘Moore’s Campaign in Spain’, which is held by Worcester Cathedral Library, is an account of Sir John Moore’s actions in the Peninsular War of 1808-1809, in which Britain was allied to Spain and Portugal against Napoleon’s forces. The book’s author, James Moore, uses letters written to and by his brother to refute “ungenerous attacks and dark insinuations” that followed Moore’s death, regarding his military decisions during the campaign.
Photograph of Sir John Moore from Moore's Campaign in Spain. Photograph reproduced by permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
Excluding his retreat and defence of Coruna, where he died, Moore is probably most famous for his role within army reform, as he introduced light infantry regiments such as the Rifles. Despite considerable criticism of his military decisions at the time of his death, Sir John Moore is now remembered for his valiant leadership in the Peninsular War, and throughout his military career. His bravery and courage were recognised, surprisingly by Marshal Soult, his French counterpart, who ordered a monument to be erected to his fallen enemy in respect and remembrance for a man whose campaign had been steeped in adversity.

Whereas modern warfare is largely governed by tactics, with military operations being decided based upon the likelihood of victory or expected casualties, early 19th Century warfare was predominantly governed by the availability of food and the conditions of transport routes, as demonstrated by Moore’s campaign.

The massive consumption of the British Army, exemplified by the prediction that in three months of warfare, “all the oxen would be consumed and very few hogs would remain in the country”, meant that the military convoy was forced to travel through the north of Portugal, where food supplies were more plentiful. Additionally, the need for rapid transport of weaponry to the front lines across the rugged Spanish and Portuguese landscape  limited transport to the main routes across the mountains, making them vulnerable to attack.

These decisions resulted in the massive loss of life, including that of Sir John Moore himself, at the battle of Coruna. It is therefore easy to see how the necessity of obtaining sufficient supplies determined the outcome of wars during this period.
Photograph of an engraving of Cornua. The caption reads "A view of the British and  French position". Photograph reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Although the content and intentions of this book are obviously serious, the descriptions of the Spanish do, in retrospect, prove amusing. James Moore says that “the disposition to exaggerate in Spain is such that it is difficult even now to ascertain what was the number of its army”, which contained “few officers who deserved the name”. Despite their shortcomings, when the British Army was forced to roll trunks containing £25,000 over a precipice as it was too heavy to transport when travelling quickly to try to outpace the French, it was apparently the Spanish peasantry who stumbled upon the money.

Why this book is held in the Cathedral’s Library still remains a mystery. The only significant link to Worcester is that Moore’s daughter married into the Dancy family, who have lived in and near to Worcester for many generations, so it is possible this book was donated to the Library by one of his descendents.

By Carys Aldous-Hughes.

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