1902 Encyclopedia > Sir John Moore

Sir John Moore
British general
(1761-1809)




SIR JOHN MOORE (1761-1809), the only English general who has gained lasting fame by the conduct of a retreat, was the son of Dr Moore (the subject of the preceding notice), and was born at Glasgow on 13th November 1761. It was his appointment as tutor to the young duke of Hamilton which procured for John Moore educational advantages by which he profited so much as to be called in after life the most cultivated officer in the army. It was then the fashion for young noblemen to travel from court to court, and Moore accompanied his father and the duke to all the chief capitals in Europe, until he was suddenly ordered in 1777 to join the 51st regiment, in which he had been appointed an ensign. He learned his drill at Minorca, and in 1779 was appointed lieutenant and paymaster in a new regiment recently raised by the duke of Hamilton, with which he served in America till the peace of 1783. In 1784 Moore, though but twenty-three years of age, was returned by the duke of Hamilton as member of parliament for the united boroughs of Selkirk, Peebles, and Linlithgow. In parliament he does not seem to have opened his mouth, though he always voted with the Govern-ment ; but he made some useful friends, notably the duke of York and Pitt. In 1788 he was promoted to a majority in the 51st regiment, and in 1790 he became lieutenant-colonel and resigned his seat in parliament. He soon got his regiment in fine order, and in 1792 sailed with it for the Mediterranean. He was too late to assist at Toulon, but was engaged throughout the operations in Corsica, and especially distinguished himself at the taking of Calvi. After the expulsion of the French, Moore became very in-timate with Paoli and many of the leading Corsican patriots, which intimacy was so obnoxious to Sir Gilbert Elliot, the viceroy, that Moore was ordered to leave the island in forty-eight hours. Sir Gilbert's hasty conduct by no means met with approval in London, and Moore was gazetted briga-dier-general, and ordered to proceed with his brigade to the West Indies. In April 1796 he reached Barbados, and at once became the right hand of Sir Ralph Aber-cromby, the commander-in-chief. The first enterprise was the reconquest of the island of St Lucia, which was com-pletely occupied by an agent of Victor Hugues with a mixed force of Caribs, negroes, and Frenchmen. The key of the island was a fortified and almost impregnable height called the Morne Fortune, which was at last stormed, though with great loss, by the valour of brigadier-generals Moore and Hope, who were to be comrades on a yet more memor-able field. After this success, Sir Ralph left the island, and appointed Moore governor and commander-in-chief. A difficult post he found his government, owing to the swarms of Caribs and negroes in the woods; but just as he was on the point of triumphing he fell ill of yellow fever, and was ordered home. In 1798 he was well and again eager to be on active service, and he accompanied his friend Abercromby over to Ireland, where he received the com-mand of the Bandon district. In the Irish rebellion of 1798 lie distinguished himself by his activity in saving Wexford from destruction after the battle of Vinegar Hill. His services were in universal request, and Abercromby insisted upon his serving with him in the expedition to the Helder in 1799, where he did creditably all that was credit-ably done in that ill-managed expedition. On his return from Holland he was made colonel of the 52d regiment, and in 1800 accompanied Abercromby to the Mediterranean as major-general.

Throughout the Egyptian expedition he commanded the reserve, and especially distinguished himself at the battle of Alexandria, when he was wounded in three places, and behaved with such distinction that he was recognized uni-versally as the greatest English general, now that Aber-cromby was gone. The short interval of the peace of Amiens did not injure Moore's prospects, and in 1803 he was appointed commandant of the camp at Shorncliffe. Here he proved his greatness as an organizer, for it was at this time that he organized those light regiments which were to form the reserve in his own campaign and the light division in the Peninsular War. While at Shorncliffe he renewed his intimacy with Pitt, who was then residing at Walmer Castle, and who on his return to office made Moore a knight of the Bath, and consulted him on every military project. Fox, when he succeeded to office, showed the same appreciation of Moore, and in May 1806 appointed him second-in-command to his brother, General Fox, who was ordered with a strong force to Sicily to supersede Sir. John Stuart. Moore won but little credit at this time, for there was none to gain, but employed his time, according to Napier, in falling in love with Miss Fox, to whom, however, he never proposed, fearing to be accepted for his position and not for himself. In 1807 he was able to escape from the intrigues of the Sicilian court, and was ordered to Portugal, which he reached too late to make any defence of Lisbon, already in the possession of the French. He then went home, and had four months' rest, the last he ever had. In May 1808 he was ordered with a force of 11,000 men to Sweden to assist the king against the united forces of France and Russia. The mad conduct of the Swedish king, however, who even went so far as to declare Sir John Moore under arrest when he refused to acquiesce in his plans, ruined any chance of successful co-operation, and the English general made his escape and returned to England. He was at once ordered to proceed with his division to Portugal, where Sir Arthur Wellesley had already landed; but the appointment of Dalrymple and Burrard to the chief commands was even more of a slight on Moore as a general of European experience than on Wellesley, whose laurels had hitherto been won in India. He regarded himself as personally insulted by the ministers, and especially by Lord Castlereagh, but deemed it his duty to go where he was ordered. He met his reward; for when, after the excitement caused by the Convention of Cintra, Dalrymple and Burrard went home, he was left in com-mand of the largest English army since the commencement of the war. Wellesley had appreciated him, and in an interesting letter (published in the Wellington Despatches) had expressed his desire to use his own great political influence to reconcile him to the ministers and the ministers to him.

Now began the glorious three months on which Moore's reputation as a soldier and a statesman must rest. The Spaniards, flushed with their former success at Baylen, regarded Napoleon, who had in person crossed the Pyrenees, as another Dupont, and loudly summoned Moore to a share in their coming victories. Moore knew better what was the value of Napoleon's genius, but he had been commanded to assist the Spaniards, and therefore gave the order to advance. His army marched in four distinct divisions, and on 13th November 1808 he concentrated at Salamanca, where he waited to see what would happen. He heard that* a subsidiary force under Sir David Baird had arrived at Corunna, and ordered it up to join him. At Salamanca he remained a whole month watching the triumphant successes of Napoleon and his lieutenants, and learning how little Spanish reports or Spanish valour were to be relied on. Though irritated by the menaces and abuse of Frere, the English minister to the junta, he waited till the 13th December, hearing daily of Spanish defeats, and then he determined to draw off upon his own small force the weight of Napoleon's power, and thus give Andalucia the winter in which to organize an army and prepare for another Baylen. With this intention he advanced through Toro and Mayorga, where Baird joined him, to Sahagun. He judged rightly that Napoleon would never advance into Andalucia and leave the English behind him, but that he would turn all his power against them. Having once drawn Napoleon's attention to himself, he began his famous retreat and fell back quickly, fighting every day and invariably with success. He now could test the military spirit he had taught at Shorncliffe, for the reserve under Sir Edward Paget consisted entirely of his own light regiments. To detail each step of the retreat and every skirmish would be but to rewrite Napier ; suffice it to say that, with great loss of life and material, Moore reached Corunna on 12th January 1809. But the fleet to take the army home was not there; and the English would have to fight Soult, whose army was even more weakened and demoralized than Moore's, before they could embark. It was on 16 th January that Moore fought his last battle ; he fell early in the day, and knew at once that his wound was mortal. His last hours were cheered with the know-ledge of victory, but were spent in recommending his old friends, such as Graham and Colborne, to the notice of the Government. Sir H. Hardinge's description of these hours is in its way inimitable, and in it must be studied how a modern Bayard should die in battle, every thought being for others, none for himself.

It may be possible in the face of his heroic death to exaggerate Moore's actual military services, but his influence on the British army cannot be overrated. The true military spiflt of discipline and of valour, both in officers and men, had become nearly extinct during the American war. Abercromby, who looked back to the traditions of Minden, was the first to attempt to revive it, and his work was carried on by Moore. The formation of the light regi-ments at Shorncliffe was the answer to the new French tactics, and it was left to Wellington to show the success of the experiment. Moore's powers as a statesman are shown in his despatches written at Salamanca, and he had the truest gift of a great man, that of judging men. It may be noticed that, while Wellington perpetually grumbled at the bad qualities of his officers and formed no school, Moore's name is associated with the career of all who made their mark. Among generals, Hope, Graham, Sir E. Paget, Hill, and Craufurd, all felt and submitted to his ascendency, and of younger officers it was ever the proud boast of the Napiers, Colborne, the Beckwiths, and Barnard that they were the pupils of Moore, not of Wellington. Nay more, he inspired an historian. The description of Moore's retreat in Napier is perhaps the finest piece of military history in the English language, not only because the author was present, but because his heart was with the leader of that retreat; and, if Napier felt towards Wellington as the soldiers of the tenth legion felt towards Csesar, lie felt towards Moore the personal love and devotion of a cavalier towards Montrose.

The great authority for Moore's life is the Life of Sir John Moore, by his brother, J. C. Moore (1833); see also Narrative of the Campaign of Sir John Moore in Spain, by his brother, J. C. Moore (4to, with plans, 1809); Napier, Peninsular War, Bk. iv., and his Life of Sir Charles Napier. For views adverse to Moore's retreat, see Charmilly, Narrative (1810), and Sir Bartle Frere, Life of the Rt. Hon. J. H. Frere (published in vol. i. of his works). Consult also Wilson, Campaign in Egypt, for Moore's services there, and the Life of Gilbert Elliot, First Jjird Minto, for the squabble in Corsica. (H. M. S.)






The above article was written by: H. M. Stevens.



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