Iberian Peninsula

Napoleonic Wars in the Iberian Peninsula: Battle at Corunna. January 16, 1809


Napoleon himself entered Spain with 130,000 troops, more experienced that the ones already there, in order to complete the subjugation of the Spanish and drive the British "leopard" (a lesser cat than the heraldic lion) into the sea. Napoleon was heard to wish that the British troops numbered nearer 100,000 so that more British mothers could know the horror of war against France.

Moore had headed to cut off communications and draw French troops out of Madrid, in the belief that this would enable the Spanish to better fight the occupying French. He soon discovered that his immediate target must be given up and a retreat begun. He did manage to gain time by confusing Napoleon about his location, and destination.

Current Situation in the Peninsula

It is the middle of winter, and his army has just retreated over the mountains. All of the troops have suffered since they moved quicker that any supplies could match. As the French enter the mountains Napoleon receives word about movements toward resistance or war in Austria. Since the British are in full retreat, he leaves the completion of the pursuit and destruction to Soult, and returned to Madrid with a large portion of the troops. From there he leaves Spain to Joseph and returns to Paris.


Moore made an early decision to retreat toward Coruña and sent messages to the fleet to sail thence to remove the British army.

Moore arrived at Lugo, tired and extremely upset at the behavior and discipline of his troops. Whn wine had been found they drank themselves to a stupor and many died. When orders were given that they did not like they had ignored them. They died from stupidity as often as from cold or lack of supplies. Here he finally found a place to stand and offer a fight. He expected this to improve the morale, and it did, his soldiers liked and understood retreat least of all orders.

The position at Lugo was an advantageous one with the river Minho on their right, and inaccesible hills on the right, with over a mile between them and the French on their hill. On the 7th of January 1909 Soult began to fire on what he thought was again the rearguard, and was surprised by the answering artillery. Two attacks to test the left and right were repulsed. Moore waited after that, all through the 8th for the French to press and attack. Whithout more food and being unable to follow up even a succesful attack on the French Moore withdrew starting during the night of the 9th. More were lost to too much drink, stragglers and exhaustion in the short distance from Lugos to Betanzos that in the entire first of the march.They could finally see the sea and arrived in Corunna on the 11th. There were some with the opinion that the French, having not pressed an attack at Lugo, would let them leave without battle.

The ships that they could see when distant turned out to not be their transport ships. These had been delayed by weather and tide, and were not there.



Coruña is a port city in Galica, in hills at the foot of the mountains.



The battle


Anecdotes and ancillary events

One of the more spectacular events of the evacuation was the destruction of powder and ammunition storage. They blew up the house in which it was stored. What the soldiers did not know that there was a much larger store next door. The resulting secondary explosion shook the entire city.

Horses were hard to acquire in Spain. They could not be left behind to make life better for the French. There was more than one drover and cavalry soldier who bore loss of comrade straight-faced who was in tears over a horse he had to kill.


The battle was termed a victory by the "loyal" press, and the evacuation a disgrace by the opposition press. The returning soldiers, at several points along the channel coast, were a poorly fed and clothed lot of miserable soldiers.

Political situation

It was the opinion of many in the government and nearly all of the opposing Whigs, that the French could not be successfully opposed in Spain and Portugal. This was supported by a dispatch from the Moore himself stating that with the troops Britain had at her disposal, they could not succeed.

It was nearly 3 months before General Wellesley and Secretary Canning would convince the Cabinet otherwise.

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