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but the immense wine vaults of Bembibre had such tempta-
tion, that many hundreds of his men remained behind
inebriated," &c.

Sir David Baird's division left the banks of the Ezla on
the morning of the 29th of December. It reached Astorga,
a distance of about twenty miles, on the evening of the
same day. The town was fully occupied by other troops,
including the Spanish army of Romana. Much difficulty
was consequently experienced in getting the men under
cover ; and before that could be effected, and a very scanty
supply of provisions procured, the night was far advanced.
As early as four o'clock on the following morning (30th of
December) the division was on its march for Manzanal (a
village in the mountains, on the road towards Coruna),
where it was intended to bivouac for the night. The
weather was most severe, and the snow deep on the sides
of the road ; the road itself a mass of mud, from causes
which have already been explained. The column reached
Manzanal towards the close of a winter day. There was
little cover for the men ; but they skreened themselves as
well as they could from the wind, under banks and inequa-
lities of the ground. Provisions were wanting ; but, after
considerable delay, some bullocks were procured and
slaughtered ; and the men were preparing their meal, when
orders were received from the commander of the forces to
proceed forthwith to Bembibre (another long march towards
the sea), and the whole was in motion by ten o'clock the
same night. A large portion of the men had not had time
or means to prepare their food : yet, thus fasting, they
proceeded on their way ; and it was six o'clock on the
following morning (the 31st) before they reached Bem-
bibre, worn down by fatigue and want of sleep. The
inhabitants closed their houses, and refused admission to
the soldiers : the consequence was, that some were broken
into ; and as, when open, the men poured into them in


search of food and rest, many of the wine-cellars were
entered, and much intoxication was the consequence ; the
effect of the wine being evidently increased by the exhausted
state of the soldiers.

The halt at Bembibre was but for a very few hours :
the early arrival of the commander of the forces with the
reserve made it necessary to proceed ; and before noon the
division was again on the march to Cacavellos. The effects,
however, of this unrelenting march were now becoming so
apparent, that, previously to quitting Bembibre, I was
sent by Sir David Baird to Sir John Moore (whilst the
former was attending the punishment of some soldiers for
their excesses in the town), to submit to the commander of
the forces whether, under all the circumstances of the case,
it might not be better to risk a loss of men by endeavour-
ing to make a stand, than incur the certainty of dimi-
nishing our force and means by urging the retreat. The
commander of the forces being, however, of opinion that
circumstances made it necessary to proceed, the division
moved to Cacavellos, where it arrived late on the evening
of the 31st; having thus marched nearly sixty iniles since
the morning of the preceding day, during which period it
had, with very short intervals, been constantly under

At Cacavellos, and in the neighbouring villages, the
troops were quarted for the night, and moved on the fol-
lowing day, through Villa Franca to Herrerias. At Villa
Franca the division only halted to receive rations. A con-
siderable depot of provisions and forage had been formed
in that town : but much had been consumed or wasted by
the divisions which preceded us. This evil did not arise
from a want of exertion on the part of the commissariat :

* I state the distance from recollection; but -I tliink I have
rather underrated the length of the march in question.


it was an almost inevitable consequence of our situation,
and must always occur, to a certain extent, where sufficient
time cannot be allowed to preserve order, or to make the
requisitions and distribution with regularity. As appears
to have been the case at Smolensko and at Wilna, on
Buonaparte's retreat from Moscow, the soldiers crowded
round the magazines, and the provisions disappeared as
soon as produced, without regard to weights and measures :
and thus a store, which was calculated to have subsisted
the whole army several days, yielded, under our unfortu-
nate circumstances, only a partial and Irregular supply.

It may naturally be asked, why were not impediments
thrown in the way of the advancing enemy, to retard his
progress, as proposed, in the event of a retreat through
Galicla, in Sir David Balrd's letter to Sir John Moore,
of the 21 st of November.'' It was one of the fatalities we
were doomed to experience, that an order which was given
by Sir John Moore at Astorga, to destroy the Intrenching
tools, on account of a deficiency in the means of transport,
was too literally interpreted, and too largely applied. The
consequence was, that the engineer officers who were em-
ployed to mine two or three bridges, could not procure
the instruments which were necessary to form the mines
properly, and they therefore explodexl partially, without
producing their full effect. This was no fault in the
officers, but arose, I believe, entirely from the cause I
have mentioned.*

No. IV.

The following letter is here inserted because it was acci-
dentally omitted where it ought to have appeared in the
Memoir according to its date.

* Notes on the Campaign, pp. 39 to 50.


Astorga, 29/A Nov. 1808.

My dear Sir John,

I had the pleasure of receiving your letter of the 27th
instant, this morning, and in compliance with your wishes
have made arrangements for bringing everything forward
as speedily as possible. With respect to the money, Ba-
thurst has already written to have 500,000 dollars, out of
the additional sum expected from England, brought on by
the way of Orense, as soon as it arrives.

Although it certainly is not my province to offer an
opinion as to the measures it might be most advisable to
adopt in the present state of affairs in this country, yet the
very critical situation in which we are placed, prompts me
to submit to your consideration a few ideas and remarks,
which have occurred from the observations I have made,
and the intelligence I have been able to obtain.

Should the British army unite at Benevente, Zamora,
and Toro, it might become a question, as to what should
be its future object. The enemy are in force at Potas ;
the Junta of Oviedo ftar for the province of Asturias ;
perhaps their fears may be groundless ; but by the city of
Leon being left open to them, the enemy, when in posses-
sion of that place, might push immediately by the rear of
Astorga, near Bembibre, into Galicia, where, by occupying
the passes, the communication to Corunna would instantly
be cut off, and in a very short time Galicia, gone as far as
the British army is concerned. Thus, the two posts of
re-embarkation, Corunna and Vigo, together with all the
stores, money, &c. are lost, and the British army, when
concentrated, can look no longer to that kingdom. In its
present state, Leon seems to be safe, with the Marquis de
la Romana, and his 5 or 6000 men ; Galicia, the Asturias,
and probably part of Leon, might be preserved, were the
British troops to keep the line of Astorga and Leon,
rather than to advance, where in a short time the principal


part of the enemy's force, in all probability double its
number at least, might be brought to act against it. The
British army seems likely to be left entirely to itself as
soon as the French have either dispersed Castanos' force,
or so far driven it away as to care no longer about its in-
terference. Therefore it should be well considered, before
the British army by its movements gives up all these
advantages, what the object should be, and whether by so
doing it is not going exactly into the trap the enemy, with
a long hand, is preparing for it. Of the possibility of the
retreat of an army of 30,000 men by the high road of
Ciudad Rodrigo, I do not presume to judge. That such
a retreat will be eventually necessary, appears but too pro-
bable, should the enemy, as he is accustomed to do, and
considering the means in his power, bear down with con-
centrated force, caring little about his flanks, and bring
to oppose the British army 70 or 80,000 men. Provisions
he cannot want ; the country they pass through, and the
means they use to procure them, ensure their supply;
and they have had the fertile province of Alava and Irun
in their rear, to obtain them from, and probably water-car-
riage to bring them forward, not to mention the immense
magazines they are said to have formed at Pampeluna and
St. Sebastian's. Their object will be a fixed one, the
annihilation of the British army, with immense means, or
the forcing it to make a precipitate and disadvantageous
retreat. The question is, how this army can be so placed
as to avoid this ; and whether, should the enemy even push
for Lisbon, the British troops, by embarking at Corunna
or Vigo, or at both these places, might not be sooner there
than they could possibly be.

The united British troops, together with the Galician
force, and that of the Marquis de la Romana, might, it is
to be presumed, keep a good part of the Asturias, all Ga-
licia, and part of Leon, which is said to be a fertile country.


But when the left flank of the army is turned by the
enemy, httle or no option will remain. Galicia we know
to be strong, and her 30,000 British troops, aided by the
peasants, might probably defy all the efforts of the enemy ;
the roads too, are remarkably good, and might afford
greater facilities for bringing up supplies to the position
that might be chosen, than Portugal could offer ; and in a
short time, perhaps, it might be better seen what the army
could do, according as circumstances arose.

The line of the river Esla is said to be stronjj, and
supposing our junction to be practicable, might probably
be defended for the present. It is likely that the enemy
may not be sufficiently advanced or prepared, to prevent
us from uniting. Besides, he may rather wish to see the
British army collected, and moving forward, as he would
then have only one specific object respecting it.

Under these circumstances, I am induced to suggest,
whether it might not be more advisable, that, by a flank
movement of your corps, the junction should be formed on
my right, rather than that 1 should proceed towards Sala-
manca, and thus uncover Galicia, and abandon the protec-
tion of the Asturias.

I had an interview with the Marquis de la Romana yes-
terday, at a village half way between this and liCon. He
does not appear to have the least intention of proceeding
to Madrid at present. He talked of being able to join me
in eight or ten days with about 10,000 men and twelve
pieces of cannon. I am, however, assured that he has not
at present inore than 5 or 6,000 men with him, and these
are completely disorganized, and in want of almost every-
thing ; indeed, from a letter which he wrote to the Mar-
quis de la Valeadez, who was here, and which was not per-
haps intended to be shown to me, he avows, that without
he should be able to procure refitment for his troops, the
whole of them will disperse; at the same time that he

VOL. II. 2 F


made the confession, he assured me that in a few days he
should be able to assemble 20,000 men.

I sent a few days ago Captain Carrol to Oviedo, for the
purpose of reporting any movement the enemy might be
making in that province; as, however, I understand his
health is very bad, I have despatched another officer, Cap-
tain Miller, of the 95th, to that place to-day.

I inclose copies of two letters from Rear-Admiral De
Courcy, upon the subject of the ports of Corunna and
Vigo. I also transmit a newspaper, and beg to call your
attention to a paragraph marked with a star.
I remain, my dear Sir John,

Most faithfully and truly yours,
Lieut.-Gen. Sir John Moore, K.G. &)C. D. Baird.

No. V.

The following account of the defeat of General Blake's

army, transmitted by that highly distinguished officer,

Captain, now Colonel Pasley, C.B. was also omitted in its

proper place.

Astorga, the Ylth Nov. 1808.

I took an opportunity of reporting to you before I left
England, that after being appointed to serve in the expe-
dition then preparing under your orders, I was ordered to
proceed to Spain, and put myself under the command of
Major-General Leith.

I was at Santander with General Leith at the time that
the army of the left was so often and so warmly engaged
with the enemy. On the 11th and 12th instants great
numbers of fugitives, officers as well as men, had come into
Santander by various routes, giving most gloomy accounts
of the fate of the army; but nothing authentic or official in
regard to the military operations subsequent to the 7th


instant being known, Major-General Leith ordered me to
proceed to General Blake's head quarters, and remain
there, reporting without delay every movement and

I reached Reynosa at 2 A.M. on the morning of the 13th,
and presented myself to General Blake, with whom I had
a conference some hours afterwards. He told me, that his
loss in the various actions, though severe, was of little con-
sequence, but that the dispersion of his troops had reduced
the force he then had with him to a handful of men, on
whom he could not for the present depend, until they
recovered from their panic. That it was therefore his inten-
tion, the moment he heard of the enemy''s approach, to fall
back by way of Leon, on the British army, but, as long
as he was not pursued, he would keep his position, and
collect the fugitives and stragglers. He seemed of opinion
that he would be unmolested for some days; I therefore
wrote to Santander, by his desire, to forward some provi-
sions, for the use of the army, to Reynosa.

General Blake had been engaged with the enemy five
several times in the short space of twelve days; on the 31st
of October, and on the 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th, and 11th days
of November. Captain Jones, of the Engineers, was pre-
sent in the action of the 31st October ; Captain Birch, of
the same corps, in that of the 7th of November, in which
he was wounded ; and Captain Carroll (Lieutenant-Colonel
Spanish service) was with the army in all its operations.
Without entering into details, which those gentlemen will
be able to give, I think it right to lay before you a general
view of those affiiirs, which reduced the army of the left to
its present unfortunate condition.

In consequence of a plan of operations, agreed upon by
Generals Castanos and Palafox at Zaragosa, and in which
General Blake was invited to co-operate, the army of the
left was advancing by way of Bilboa towards Durango.


When they occupied the latter place, it was hoped that the
communication with Castile being open, as well as the
post of Bilboa, &c. they would be at no loss for provisions,
the want of which, in a country at all times poor in bread,
but then exhausted by the presence of the arn)ies, was
greatly felt. At the same time this position enabled the
Lords of Biscay to assemble in order to send deputies to
the Supreme Central Government, and take preliminary
measures for arming their province.

All this was entirely frustrated by the action of the 31st
ultimo, in which General Blake was attacked by General
Lefevre, in his position between Zornosa and Durango,
and, after an obstinate contest, obhged to retreat by way
of Bilboa and Valmaseda, to Nava, where he was on the
4th instant. The Asturian corps, commanded by General
Azevedo, and the 2nd division of the Galician troops, were
not engaged, being posted near Orduiia; and retreated by
a different route, having no communication with the rest of
the arni}'^ for several days. It does not appear that the
French army was equal to Blake"'s in numbers, but they
contrived to bring a superior force against every point of
attack. They were too roughly handled in the engage-
ment, which lasted nine hours (commencing at daylight),
to be able to harass the retreat, which was made in good

All the Spanish troops engaged are said to have behaved
gallantly, but, what is extraordinary, those who were in
reserve, and out of fire, got into confusion, and several
dispersed, spreading, as is always the case with fugitives,
the most gloomy and exaggerated accounts of the fate of
the army.

Early on the morning of the 5th General Blake, having
had previous intelligence that the two divisions which I
mentioned before, were separated from the army, and were
coming to join him, by way of Orantia, then in possession


of the enemy, attacked and dislodged the French from that
place and Valmoseda, taking some prisoners, and two or
three field-pieces, with ammunition ; and the junction of
the Asturians and second division, who arrived in time to
share the honour of the victory, was happily effected.
The French, who were commanded in this affair by Gene-
ral ViHat, liad not the whole of their force present.

On the 7th General Blake made a second attack upon
the enemy, who had retired and concentrated themselves
near Guenes. He succeeded in turning their left wing,
but his own centre giving way, he was obliged to retreat.
A division which he had sent by the Portugalete road, to
act against the enemy's right and in rear, was separated
from the army, and took the coast road towards Santander.
The action of the 8th was partial, and consisted merely in
attacks on the rear guard.

About one o''clock p.m. on the 10th instant the French
made a general attack on the Spanish army at Espinosa de
los Monteros, which was obstinately resisted till after sun-
set, with doubtful success. The infantry of the division
of the North, who had distinguished themselves wherever
they were engaged, suffered most in this action. The
brave Conde de San Roman, who commanded them, was
mortally wounded, and is since dead, a man whose loss is
much to be regretted in the present critical circumstances
of his country. The Galicians and Asturians, the latter
of whom are all peasants, officers as well as men, fought
very well in this engagement.

At daybreak next morning the French renewed their
attack upon the Spanish army, which still kept the same
position. The left wing, posted upon an eminence, and
which was principally composed of Asturians, gave way
with little resistance. When the rest of the army saw this
position, which commanded the road, in possession of the
enemy, a panic seized them, and a precipitate retreat took


place, with much confusion, great numbers dispersing in
various directions.

When it is considered that the greatest part of this
army was composed of new levies, imperfectly disciplined,
without uniforms or great coats, many without shoes, ex-
posed in this situation for such a length of time to the
inclemency of the weather, and that for many days toge-
ther they were ahiiost starving with hunger, having no
rations of bread or biscuit, but subsisting entirely on the
cattle they found on the mountains (meat without salt, a
food so repugnant to the usual habits of the Spanish pea-
santry), it will rather be wondered at that the army kept
together so long, than that it should at last melt away.

The officers, particularly the Asturians, were the first, I
am sorry to say, that abandoned their colours. On my
way to Reynosa I met more than twenty, all unhurt, who
advised me to return to Santander, or I should certainly be
taken. Of the three Asturian Generals, one (Luiros) was
killed, and the others wounded, so that one cannot be sur-
prised that the Asturians were so soon routed in the last
action. Several hundreds of them were on their way home
at the time I allude to. The Galicians were also making
the best of their way towards their own province.

On the evening of the 13th, General Blake had intelli-
gence that the French were advancing to attack him at
Reynosa, at the same time sending from Burgos (from
which they had driven the Estreraadurans on the 10th) a
corps to Aguilar del Campo, which rendered it impossible
for him to retire according to his plan mentioned before.
He therefore retreated into the valley of Cabucringa, in the
province of las Montanas de Santander. His conduct in
the whole of his operations is said to have been very cool
and gallant. He personally shared the hardships of his
army, exposed himself in every action, and was always
with the rear guard of his army when obliged to retreat.


He had only about 7000 or 8000 men with him when
he left Reynosa, but as there were at that time at Santan-
der 5000 militia and provincials, who had never joined the
army, and several thousands of the fugitives and stragglers,
amongst others, a whole division that had separated before
the last action, I have no doubt but that the Marquis de
la Romana, who had been at Santander since the 9th, and
was, when I left it, on the point of setting out to assume
the command, would in a few days be able to collect more
than 20,000 men (including the dismounted cavalry from
Funen, who might be armed as infantry,) and if he retired
into Asturias, which I have no doubt he would be able to
effect, with the reserve of that province, 10,000 in number,
and the many stragglers that might be collected, he might
in a short time be at the head of more than 35,000. For
it is to be observed, that all the deserters and stragglers,
although without uniform, or anything to distinguish them
from the body of the peasantry, carefully preserved their
arms, which appears a proof of what they declared was
their intention, not to give up the cause of their country.

The very severe actions they fought with the best troops
of France, show how formidable the Spaniards may be-
come. All that is wanting, is to ensure the soldiers their
rations, and to make a few terrible examples of the officers
and men (particular!}' the former) who abandoned their
colours, with seasonable promotions of those who distin-
guished themselves. But if officers are allowed to abandon
their regiments with impunity, when opposed to the ene-
my, under any pretext whatever, the cause of Spain is
altogether hopeless.

Patriotism in every class is not wanting ; but this is not
sufficient to keep new levies firm in time of action, unless
certain death and infamy are held out to those who misbe-
have. Unless the Spanish Government and Generals
adopt this rigorous system, cowardice and desertion will


become so common as to cease to be held disgraceful.
What is no less fatal, these fugitives of every description
poison the minds of the people wherever they go, by false
accounts of the enemy's force and the loss of the Spanish
armies, vi^hich may produce a panic, terror, and despon-
dency all over the country.

Having related what I know of the state of things, it
remains to explain the motives that induced me to come
here instead of remaining with the Spanish army, accord-
ing to my orders. I knew that General Leith intended to
send some other officer of his staff from Santander to meet
the British army, to whom it appeared to me extremely
important to give the earliest intelligence of the disasters
of the Spaniards ; but the moment that the enemy entered
Reynosa, which we were informed took place the same
night we left it, I was aware that it would be impossible
for him to communicate from Santander. Under these
considerations, I thought it best, for the good of the ser-
vice, to embrace the opportunity (whilst it was not too
late) of proceeding with the intelligence to the British
army, as I also knew that General Leith could be at no
loss in sending another officer from Santander in my place
to the head quarters of the Spanish army, where Captain
Carroll also remained.

I therefore, by General Blake's approbation, having
written to Major General Leith the evening before, left the
Spanish army at Soto on the morning of the 14th, and by
way of the mountains, arrived at Cervera that night, pass-
ing near Aguilar del Campo, where the French were said
to have 4000 men, who had taken some baggage and guns
of General Blake's army there the night before.

By false information of the position of the British army,
who were said to be at Segun and Carrion de los Condes,
I was induced to take a circuitous route. At Saldana

Online LibraryClaudius MadrolleThe life of general, the right honourable Sir David Baird, Bart. .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 30 of 31)