Yorkshire's Rifles

The Monastery, Part 8: Homecoming

Yorkshire's Rifles find one last obstacle between themselves and Corunna: the army of Marshal Soult.

(Alas, this was the final session of our Duty & Honour mini-campaign. Young Mr. Giles’ player missed the game this time but we had everyone else.)

The Redcoats’ cheers didn’t last long. The ad-hoc battalion that had been built around Yorkshire’s rifle company saw Yorkshire and his squad ride into view and immediately shuffled to a halt on the mountain road. They had been walking through the snow and rain all day after the battle with the Spaniards and most of the following night, and most of them assumed that the captain’s return was the signal to halt, collapse, and get a few hours’ sleep.

But their officers knew all too well the risks that they ran with every delay. January 14 was about to dawn; it was entirely possible that the British army at Corunna would sail to England with the sunrise. Yorkshire, Smithwick, Richter and Flagstaff knew that they could only hope that some disaster or miracle would keep Moore’s army in Spain for a day or two more. Otherwise the Rifles and Redcoats would face imprisonment or an even harder march south to Portugal ahead of French pursuers.

So Yorkshire allowed a few minutes to rejoin with the column, take quick reports from Richter and Flagstaff, and then make sure the sergeants and his chosen men knew that they must get the men and women moving again.

(The new military mission: Traverse the last mountain range, keep to the best roads, and cover the last few miles in 24 hours or less. Four challenges with a deadline of four failures; if it failed, they would be lost or bogged down in bad terrain for days. They had actually already completed the first challenge, facing the brigands led by Iago Cervino, and then spun a side mission off from it. So now they were getting back to it with one failure behind them. This was the second group challenge, boosting the health and morale of the column so it could survive the grueling final stage of the march.)

Sergeant Cole was able to walk and tried to stay alert despite the pain in his shoulder. When Yorkshire had led the others off, Cole oversaw the work of the private who passed for a surgeon and saw to it that the musket ball was taken out of his shoulder and the wound bandaged up reasonably well. He was a little woozy and feverish but he could march.

(Since he got Maimed, I had him draw a card for the optional Maimed results in the book. He got infection that set in and weakened him, reducing the deadline of one of his missions, his personal mission in this case, by one.)

Cole tried to keep an eye on the men and followers to try to spot which ones were in the worst shape and find ways to help them, but his shoulder and the cold conspired to keep him dull.

(A failed Awareness test.)

Private O’Toole took charge of the loot that the men had brought from Cervino’s hideout and set out to equip the men properly, making sure the worst off received boots and cloaks.

(A Quartermaster test; Critical Success.)

Smithwick did his best to change the dressings on his leg and stretch it, but to no avail. It was a mess and he soon lost heart.

(A First Aid test by him to deal with his Maiming; failure.)

Yorkshire moved down the column and made sure the men were appointed as correctly as could be under the circumstances. Traditions are everything in the British Army, you know. More often than not, the men straightened up and tried to pull their ragged uniforms together, and with a command they began to march at last.

(A Soldiering test: Perfect Success.)

As the column started to move, Private Jones began an old, traditional Welsh marching song. A few men joined in, then others, as hearts lifted and were stirred despite the cold and dark.

(A Music test: Two Perfect Successes. That qualified for one of the challenges of his personal mission, too.)

Southgate wasn’t worried about lifting spirits. He limped among the men watching for the malcontents who looked like they might cause trouble after all, and gave ugly looks and quiet threats to keep them in line.

(An Intimidation test. Success.)

Above the singing, Yorkshire looked over the column from its head and called out that the men must have heart; after all their work they were very nearly there. If the pressed on another few hours they would be at Corunna, in the arms of the British Army and on the ships of the British Navy, and then home. Seeing one of the worst-off men shuffle near, ready to collapse, Yorkshire dismounted, made the man sit on his French horse, and walked at the head of the column himself. The singing rose up again and the Redcoats and Riflemen marched on into the mountains.

(The final overall Command test for Yorkshire was a Critical Success.)

To the Sea

The sun rose over the mountains to see the column still marching, a bit more haggard now and with no voices raised in song, but still moving. A few men had fallen in the darkest, coldest part of night, their legs and spirits both giving out, leaving them dead in the ice. The column left them behind.

Captain Yorkshire stayed busy at the head of the column, talking to the men, keeping up their spirits as best he could, making sure that they saw him ready to share their hardships.

(Once again I gave them a chance to handle personal missions and healing. This was a Diplomacy test to repair Yorkshire’s injured Reputation with the Regiment. A Perfect Success.)

O’Toole had a few men approach him looking for things they hadn’t been able to get; the right pair of shoes for one of the women with the column, a cloak to replace a long-lost greatcoat, the most basic things. He talked with other men, threw a bit of his own meager wealth on the line, and struck deals to make sure they had what they needed.

(O’Toole wanted to repair one of his Reputations with the regiment, but he wanted to use something other than Diplomacy because he has none. I decided I’d let him use up to three cards from another skill if he could think of a good description for it applying. My reasoning was that characters can assist each other in skill tests with up to three cards, so that seemed a fair compromise here. He scored a Critical Success with three cards from Haggling.)

Southgate and Cole worked to keep the most badly hurt men walking, calling on their basic knowledge of leechcraft and Southgate’s vicious reputation to encourage the men to either heal or at least quit complaining. They certainly managed to bring Smithwick’s leg under control, giving it a decent dressing and binding so that he could get about without too much pain.

(Southgate attempted First Aid with an assist by Cole and bonus cards from his “Hard Man of the Regiment” Reputation. I had the Hand of Fate throw a pretty challenging five cards, since they were doing it on the move and in the open, but Cole’s bonus card made it just barely a Success.)

Smithwick, his leg feeling much better, sought out Maria and her brother, shivering on exhausted horses. He asked if they’d like some music to go with the march. He produced his violin, tuned it, and then played from horseback with surprising charm.

(He wanted a Music test to charm Maria as part of his personal mission. Adding cards for his current Reputation with her and his various Traits — Heartbreaker, Perfect Pitch, etc. — he got a Success.)

Private Jones felt the stirrings of responsibility for the men around him, who had responded well to Yorkshire but were prone to losing hope at any moment. He passed around the bottle of liquor that he always had on his person, straightened his uniform and then fished out the silver medal that the officers had made for him after his heroics at Viermo. He pinned it to the outside of his greatcoat and marched on with head high and proud.

(A challenge from Jones’ personal mission, leading by example and improving the men around him. Perfect Success.)

Midway through the day, coming around the side of a mountain the men spotted thin columns of smoke rising not far ahead. A little village lay near the road in a pass between two mountains.

The Rifles could at once hear the muttering and grumbling begin. The men were exhausted, hungry, freezing, beyond all motivation. They wanted to stop. They wanted a roof and a wall. Even if it meant inevitably being captured and being consigned to a French prison hulk, that was far into the hazy future. It would be worthwhile if they could get just a little warmer now. The mood quickly became ugly.

(Next group challenge in the military mission: Prevent mutiny!)

Yorkshire called out for quiet and reminded the men of the need for discipline; Jones moved among them and said he was ready to keep going no matter what. Southgate simply glared and growled at them to quit whining.

(Jones made a Soldiering test with an assist by Yorkshire; Perfect Success. Also a Succcess for Intimidation by Southgate.)

Smithwick sternly told the men to button up, and catching Uxia Maria’s eye he manhandled one or two of the surliest. But it only caused the grumbling to grow, and she looked away in disgust.

(Smithwick attempted a Command test boosted by his already Injured Reputation with her. The attempt failed, which left that Reputation Maimed once more. Theirs is a rocky romance.)

O’Toole asked Yorkshire if he could have permission to take a bit of silver to the town and buy food and supplies. Yorkshire sent Cole and Southgate with him, and told the men that they’d get whatever they could from the village but could not afford to stop.

The three soldiers went to town and O’Toole bargained for coats and shoes, and he hired a few men and women to set up some massive soup pots outside town; Southgate suggested doing it a mile or two away, so the column could file past them and fill their cups with hot food as they went, but without being as able to stop and ransack the village itself.

(Haggling by O’Toole with an assist by Cole; just barely successful.)

As they were setting that up, Southgate made his way apart from Cole and O’Toole and found a hut with a smith. Through signs and gestures and evil looks he made the man understand what he wanted: Take the silver pieces that he’d hidden in his gear, melt them down, and forge them into musket balls. Then he could keep them in an ammunition pouch without raising eyebrows—as long as he remembered not to let anyone shoot them.

(I had Southgate attempt Skulduggery to even get a chance at this, but bolstered by his reputation for being called on by the quartermaster — to explain his going off by himself — he got a Perfect Success. Then his Intimidation check to convince the Spaniard to do what he wanted and now was another Perfect Success. That meant completion of Southgate’s personal mission, and the reward was his Wealth score increased by +1.)

The column slowly filed by the soup stand that O’Toole had set up, and he personally ladled stew into the men’s tin cups. There was a little grumbling, but under all the weight of Yorkshire’s and Jones’ moral authority and O’Toole’s efforts to keep them warm, the grumbling subsided. Southgate rejoined a bit late, and the men marched on and left the village behind.

(Yorkshire’s final Command test for the group challenge: Another whopper with 17 cards. Perfect Success. That meant success already in his personal mission, which boosted his Soldiering by +2.)

(The next military challenge began.)

Yorkshire made sure his uniform was correct, and he made sure the men kept theirs correct, too; a man who keeps his uniform tidy and clean has the discipline necessary for a hard march.

(Soldiering; Perfect Success.)

The marched on into the night of January 14. The path grew icy cold again. Another handful of men died, one and then another a couple of hours later, then another.

Jones and Cole echoed Yorkshire and kept the men moving and paying attention. The British Army drilled its men in endless marches just for this sort of reason, after all.

(Soldiering by Jones with an assist by Cole; Critical Success.)

Smithwick decided to take his turn improving the men’s morale. From horseback he sang and played his violin and even moved a few of them to join in as they walked.

(A Music test for Smithwick; Success.)

O’Toole and Southgate walked ahead of the column with the Spaniards, keeping their eyes on the trail and its condition and making sure the column didn’t take a wrong turn.

(Awareness by O’Toole with an assist by Southgate and bonus Discipline cards from Yorkshire; Perfect Success.)

Yorkshire kept up his pace, even as the cold and exhaustion crept through his body, knowing he could not give in yet. The men stayed with him.

(The group challenge’s final Command test by him. With all those earlier successes and his “loved by the Regiment” Reputation on the line, he topped his earlier efforts to draw a ridiculous 19 cards. Two Perfect Successes versus zero for the Hand of Fate.)

A few hours before dawn on January 15, the column came quite suddenly around a last bend in the hill trail and saw the deeper blackness of the ocean before them, a few miles away. They could smell the sea, and burned powder from recent fighting, and the distant stench of dead men and animals.

Between them and it lay hilly country with a number of steep heights, copses of woods and little villages. On the coast, the scarce lights of a city in deep night flickered on a hook-shaped peninsula that stretched a mile or so into the sea. At the far end of the peninsula, well apart from the city, stood a squat square lighthouse nearly two hundred feet tall.

In the bay of the peninsula and beyond it flickered the binnacles of hundreds and hundreds of ships.

They had reached Corunna, and somehow the Navy was still there.

Blades in the Night

The Rifles and Redcoats shuffled to a weary halt as Yorkshire and Smithwick trained their spyglasses on the land before them.

Their road had approached from the south. Atop and around the heights in front and to their right stood the torches of a vast army, stretching in a thick crescent nearly four miles wide. Through their telescopes Yorkshire and Smithwick could see the eagles and emblems of Marshal Soult’s regiments.

Between the French and the city, among the villages that lay nearer to Corunna, camped the much smaller British army. The flags of General Fraser’s division, the one to which Yorkshire’s company had been attached, stood in the rear, serving as the reserves, closest to the long, ancient wall that separated the peninsula from the mainland.

To the far northwest — just west of Fraser’s camp — was a gap between the far flanks of Soult’s army and the shore. Soult clearly had no fear of the British either attempting to escape or having any substantial forces join them, and he had enough men to maneuver against any attempt by the British to flank him, so the gap was of no concern to the French. But Yorkshire and Smithwick thought it might be wide enough for their makeshift battalion to creep through and rejoin the British lines.

They set off again. The French were a mile away, no more. The ad-hoc battalion followed little trails between the woods and hills in a broad circuit to the west and slowly north, meaning to avoid all French patrols and outposts.

(The next group challenge: Get through the French lines. Failure would mean discovery and an unavoidable encounter with French soldiers, which in turn would mean a battle that might result in the entire group being captured.)

Yorkshire dressed the column and reminded them of their drills and training. He told the Redcoats to take their cues from the Rifles, who were experts at this kind of maneuvering.

(A Soldiering test for Yorkshire; Perfect success.)

Smithwick warned sharply against any noise and above all any light. There was no pretension in his demeanor this time, no apparent desire to impress a woman, just the natural authority of his rank and Yorkshire’s support and the clear need of the battalion.

(Command for Smithwick, with +4 Discipline cards from Yorkshire; two Perfect successes. Only one of them counted, but it’s fun to see more than one come up at a time.)

O’Toole and Southgate set off at the head of the column, well in advance, as scouts. O’Toole deliberately shed his tall black shako and held his rifle low to present less of a silhouette and appear to be a wandering townsman at first glance in the darkness. He lost track of Southgate and had to double back to keep in contact with the column. Southgate crept ahead with uncanny stealth into the night.

(Awareness for O’Toole, augmented by his Reputation for not being a model soldier and +2 Discipline cards from Yorkshire; nevertheless a Failure. Southgate attempted Skulduggery and got two Perfect Successes.)

Jones and Cole walked along the lines and quietly made sure the Redcoats were being quiet, were being alert, and were following orders.

(Soldiering by Jones and an assist by Cole. Perfect success.)

The column shuffled along, with the Spaniards leading their horses and stroking them to keep them quiet, for a very long time. They moved among the little steep hills and woods, and between countless ancient low stone walls. From time to time they would see the lanterns of a village not far away, and in those times they became extra quiet, determined not to give themselves away this close to success.

Southgate, ahead of the group, realized full well that nobody in the company knew where he was. He could disappear forever, marked down as one more missing man among thousands in the chaos of the retreat. He had made his mind up to start walking west, away from Corunna and the Army, when he heard low French voices not far away. He stopped and listened. More voices; a sergeant or lieutenant calling for quiet. He considered how they had been spread out. There must have been at least a company’s worth.

He crept back toward the column, muttering, “Damn it, damn it, damn it.”

(Yorkshire’s final Command test for the group challenge, despite putting down some vast array of cards, came up 4 Successes against 3 Successes and 1 Critical by the Hand of Fate. Failure. They were about to be discovered!)

Yorkshire heard Southgate’s report and told Smithwick to take over the main body of the Redcoats. Yorkshire would lead the Rifles ahead and around to be in position to attack the French flank. Smithwick should continue the march in ten minutes.

“And above all, no firing,” he said. “No powder. Bayonets and swords only.”

Yorkshire and his Rifles moved quietly into the slopes and out of sight. Several tense minutes later they stopped again and crouched; Southgate had found his Frenchmen.

A full troop of French dragoons were arrayed on foot along a long, low wall in a field, barely visible in the occasional moonlight, maybe fifty yards away.

Half the troop, thirty or forty men, were against the wall proper, carbines held ready. The others were scattered a short distance behind them in the trees.

Thanks to Southgate’s stealth as a scout, the Rifles had gotten this far undetected. Yorkshire told the men to fix bayonets. They would not wait for the Redcoats; they would charge the French position at once from the rear and destroy it. There was to be no gunfire; he had Cole and Jones make sure no man had a primed rifle.

Then he drew his saber and led the way.

The Rifles crept half the distance, until they were so near that even with stealth there was no way the occasional rattle of a buckle or pack would not be noticed.

Yorkshire stood, lifted his saber, and cried, “Charge!”

The Rifles sprinted ahead and crashed into the wholly shocked and startled dragoons.

Half the Rifles attacked the rearmost line of dragoons among the trees. There were shouts of rage and defiance, and cries of pain and terror. Amazed cries and questions flew out in French, choked off by a sudden attack by Riflemen appearing out of nowhere.

Some of the dragoons managed to pull their sabers out and fight back; a Rifleman went down near Cole, another near Southgate. Next to Jones a man’s throat was laid open by a sabre before Jones could knock the man down; Jones was feroicious in a bare-knuckle brawl but less so with cold steel. The men around O’Toole watched out for him; they were men he had helped equip. One of them fell in the fighting. Yorkshire, at the front, saw four of his men fall around him. When it was over the Rifles had five hurt and four dead.

But that was nothing to what they did to the enemy.

The dragoons dropped left and right, skewered by sword bayonets, knocked down by rifle butts, cut down by Yorkshire’s sword. In a short minute’s work the Rifles killed or badly wounded 32 dragoons and had the rest pinned against the wall in horror before the French captain cried out for mercy. Not a gunshot had been fired by either side.

(This was a combat skirmish. The French ordinarily would have four cards for attacking with their sabers, but I docked them by one card for surprise and another for being attacked from the read. Since for each player character there were about a dozen men fighting, I used a house rule saying that each success would mean one or more successful attacks: one hit for a black number, two for a red number, four for a royal card or ace.)

(Cole scored 1 Perfect, 1 Critical and 1 Success vs. 1 French Success, for 4 French dead, 4 French Maimed and 2 French Injured; rather than become injured further himself he said a Rifleman was Maimed.)

(Southgate drew 1 Perfect, 2 Critical and 1 Success vs. 1 French Success, for 4 French dead, 8 Maimed and 1 Injured. He too let a friendly NPC be Maimed rather than taking the injury himself.)

(Jones drew 1 Success vs. 1 French Critical Success, so he failed at his test; 1 Frenchman Injured; the Critical would have Maimed Jones would would have killed him since he was already Injured, so he allowed a Rifleman to be killed instead.)

(O’Toole drew 1 Success vs. none for the French; 4 French Injured. This incidentally completed his personal mission to become a more ferocious fighter in close combat, earning him the Hack and Slay trait.)

(Yorkshire drew 2 Critical and 1 Success vs. 1 Critical. He considered taking the injury himself, but that would have left him Maimed and perhaps unable to make the all-important final Command test of the skirmish, so another Rifleman died and three others were Maimed compared to four French maimed and one Injured.)

(The final Command test by Yorkshire against the French commander came up with a Perfect Success by Yorkshire compared to a Success by the enemy. Victory!)

They could hear Smithwick’s column approaching before they could see them, so Yorkshire quickly had the men arrange the prisoners and pick up their wounded, and set off at double time while other French positions not far away called out questions to find out what had happened.

By the time other dragoons discovered the carnage, Yorkshire’s Rifles were gone.

Coming Home

Yorkshire was on his horse again when the lights of Fraser’s camp appeared ahead. He spotted a sentry: a man all in dark green with a black shako, nameless a soldier of the 95th Rifles, the most welcome sight in all the world.

Yorkshire rode straight toward him. The sentry heard the horse and heard the shuffling of many men behind it and called out, “Who’s there?”

“Captain Geoffery Yorkshire. 60th Regiment of Foot.”

The sentry seemed baffled. “What? Come nearer, sir.”

Yorkshire rode close enough for the sentry to see him.

The sentry still looked confused. “But sir, I thought the 60th was all captured.”

“Not us, private. We’ve had a hard time of it, but I’ve come with my men, with a band of Redcoats that we rescued, and with prisoners of war. I need to speak with General Beresford or General Fraser.”

The sentry looked shocked. “Er—of course. This way, sir.”

The 95th were in Paget’s division, camped just north of Fraser. Yorkshire told Cole and the ensigns to lead the column onward to the outskirts of the village where Fraser was camped. He called for Smithwick to join him. Luis and Maria Raimundez, hollow-eyed and exhausted, remained with the men for now.

Yorkshire and Smithwick followed the sentry to an inn that housed Fraser and Beresford. Even at this late hour the generals were fully awake, looking over maps and rosters, making plans for the battle to come.

Fraser was a tall, burly, middle-aged man with wavy gray hair and friendly eyes. He had a reputation for marked kindness and consideration for his men and for being a positive lion in battle.

Beresford was shorter, fatter, a remarkably ugly man with narrow dark eyes and scant hair. When the army left for Britain he had orders to stay behind. He was to return to Portugal and rebuild the Portugese army. But for now he commanded a brigade in Fraser’s division.

Both men looked up, astonished, when the sentry wonderingly announced, “Captain Yorkshire of the 60th, sirs.”

The generals regarded the newcomers in silence for a startled second. Both men were pale and drawn from hunger, cold and exhaustion. Smithwick was grimy and limping, his coat and trousers covered in his own blood from four wounds. Yorkshire was unhurt, had his coat and officer’s sash tied neatly, and even his boots shone from a recent cleaning on the trail.

“Yorkshire,” Fraser exclaimed at last. “Good God! Where on Earth have you been?”

“Well, sir,” Captain Yorkshire said, “we’ve had something of an adventure.”


(And that’s it. I had plans for the band to help dislodge the Afrancescados in Corunna’s high offices and then to fight in the Battle of Corunna proper, not to mention resolving Smithwick’s romance with the lovely Maria, but we ran out of time. One of the players has a RuneQuest game ready to start and I had promised this would be the last session of the campaign. And their terrific triumph in the night over the hated dragoons provided a very nice piece of climactic action, anyway.)

The British army under Sir John Moore had arrived at Corunna on January 11 and the transports of the British Navy were nowhere to be seen. Contrary winds had held them in the south. Moore arrayed his tattered forces to defend Corunna until the ships arrived.

Marshal Soult’s vanguard reached the outskirts of Corunna the next day and took positions in the heights overlooking the bay. His army continued to arrive and to expand over the next couple of days.

Moore systematically destroyed all the huge quanitites of gunpoweder, cannons and muskets that the British had brought to Corunna intending to let the Spanish army take it to help the fight against France. The Spanish were shocked and furious, but Moore knew that the Spanish governor of Corunna would hold out just long enough for the British to escape and then the French would capture Corunna and everything within.

On the morning of January 13, British engineers staked 1,500 barrels of powder inside a warehouse on a broad, empty hillside outside the city, overlooking the harbor. They set fuses and retreated. But they had not thought to search the other, adjacent warehouses. When the barrels exploded, they also detonated fully 5,000 more barrels next door.

It was the most tremendous explosion ever felt in that part of the world. It flattened nearby buildings and send debris tumbling from the sky a mile away. Glass shattered throughout Corunna and the suburbs. The shockwaves caused waves in the harbor that damaged fishing boats.

The noise of it drifted over the miles into the mountains of Spain, even to the men in Yorkshire’s company, who weren’t to learn for three more days what had happened.

On January 14, Soult’s artillery arrived, and so did the Navy transports at last. The British began to slaughter their cavalry’s horses, since the cavalrymen, no use in the rough terrain around Corunna, would be among the first aboard. The slaughter of the horses was itself a disaster, poorly planned and poorly handled. Hundreds of the poor beasts got loose and had to be pursued along the beaches and shot. The stench of horse carcasses choked the air for days. That night the British embarked their cavalrymen, their artillerymen and their sick and hurt.

On January 15, Soult’s forces attacked. They drove the outermost British forces back — that was expected — and set up their heaviest guns, a battery of 12-pounders, on the heights overlooking the village of Elvina, where the British were camped in strength.

That night, Yorkshire and his men returned at last to the British lines, and the British continued to move their people onto the transports.

The morning of January 16, the Battle of Corunna began in earnest. Soult meant to scatter the British forces and capture them before they could embark and sail away. The fighting centered around Elvina, where Moore personally directed the fighting despite musket fire and cannonballs smashing nearby.

The fighting ranged back and forth in Elvina and to the east of it, in the hills where French line infantry and skirmishers clashed with British foot. A French advance drove the British from Elvina; a counterattack led by a Highlands regiment drove the French back again.

French forces moved west to attack Elvina and the British lines from the flank, and Moore sent orders for Paget and Fraser to intercept them. The orders apparently never reached Fraser, but Paget’s Light Brigade attacked the French flank, dismounted dragoons under General Lahoussaye—Yorkshire fought a troop of them the night before—and then attacked French line infantry under Mermet who were maneuvering through the hills. Riflemen of the 95th and the 28th, accompanied by Redcoats of the 52nd, fought Mermet’s infantry for hours and drove them slowly back.

About 4:30 in the afternoon, a cannonball from the heights over Elvina struck Sir John Moore and knocked him from his horse. At first those near him thought he had been hit by a musket ball, and he struggled to rise, but then they saw with horror that his left shoulder had been torn open to strings and sinews. It was clearly a mortal wound.

By all accounts Moore kept his composure, issued orders, and then had men help him away from the front lines. They unfurled his sash — the colorful red silk that British officers wore around their waists, meant for exactly this purpose — and lifted him in it like a hammock. He insisted on holding his sword. As they walked, at one point they stumbled and the hilt of the sword was shoved up into the horrible wound, but Moore again refused to be parted with it. They placed him in a bed in a house outside Corunna’s walls. He died, hours later, having heard with satisfaction reports that the British had fended off Soult’s assault.

Moore’s second in command, Baird, was hit by a cannonball himself not long afterward and taken from the lines to have surgeons remove his arm.

General Hope took command from Baird and oversaw the last of the fighting. The Light Brigade under Paget had fought their way to the base of the hill where the French battery was firing, but by then the day was nearly done, the French were beginning to retire, and Hope called off the attack.

The British embarked the bulk of their army overnight. Before dawn the next morning they buried Moore outside Corunna. Over the 17th the British picquets withdrew behind the rearguard and embarked, some in good order, others singing drunkenly, others falling splashing into the sea.

Soult’s army moved forward and established their guns on the heights directly over the bay, within range of the transports. When they opened fire that evening it shocked many of the British, particularly the transport captains. The guns did little direct damage but in their panic a few transports lost their way and wrecked or foundered, killing hundreds of soldiers and sailors.

Early in the darkest morning of January 18 the British rearguard, the reserves under Fraser, embarked at last. Yorkshire’s Rifles boarded Navy transports. They had been the first ashore when the British army under Welleseley had landed in Portugal the year before. They were the last to depart when the British army under Hope fled back to England.

Dying, Sir John Moore had said he was glad to know he had done his duty and hoped it would be remembered in England. It wouldn’t. When the army reached England, bedraggled and defeated, Moore would be remembered not for the accomplishment of saving the British army from annihilation but for the disgrace of retreat. Sir Arthur Wellesely would soon be reinstated and this time given full command, and he would speak well of Moore’s efforts. Soult himself would erect a monument over Moore’s grave in honor of his defense of Corunna. Tthe Spanish would keep Moore’s gravesite as a memorial and would still honor it 200 years later. But Moore was pilloried in the British press and Parliament, blamed in death for the Army’s initial failure in Spain.

As dawn broke on January 18 the British fleet sailed away home, broken and demoralized. The sight of them would shock England when they stumbled off the ships a few days later. The recriminations would fly. But even then, preparations were being made.

Three months later, in April 1809, the British army under Sir Arthur Wellesley would return to the Peninsular War.


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