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106

OBSERVATIONS ON THE

CHAP. I. communications of the army, and even com

promise its safety. 1809. January

Such being the importance of Gallicia, and such the extended influence which an army, posted on its frontier, must have exercised on the war in every part of the peninsula, it will probably, we think, to an impartial observer, appear extraordinary, that Sir John Moore, with this important province within his grasp, should never have adopted any serious measures for its occupation. That the subject was brought under his consideration, the following extract of a

letter from Sir David Baird, will shew. Dated. “ It has often occurred to me,” says that disDec. 8.

tinguished officer, “ that in the event of our being obliged to adopt defensive measures, it might be more advantageous for the combined British army to cover Gallicia and part of Leon, than by my proceeding to join you at Salamanca, to abandon the defence of these provinces. The Asturias might be occupied by the troops of the Marques de la Romana, and, if you judged it proper, by a flank movement, to join us in the neighbourhood of Astorga, I entertain a confident belief that, by occupying the strong ground behind it, we should be able to cover the country in our rear, and might wait until it is seen what efforts

CAMPAIGN OF SIR JOHN MOORE.

107

the Spanish nation is disposed and determined CHAP. I. to make in defence of the national independence.

1809. The royal road from Corunna to this place (Vil- January. la Franca) and Astorga is remarkably good, although mountainous; and, with the sea open to us, we should be able to receive with facility such reinforcements and supplies as the British Government might deem it proper to send. I do not think much difficulty would be experienced for a few months, from a want of provisions. The country abounds with cattle: bread indeed would be required; but flour might be obtained from England; and, in the meantime, Gallicia would have an opportunity of arming under our protection, and our presence in Spain would furnish a rallying point, and act as a stimulus to the Spaniards, &c.”

To the project, thus enforced by Sir David Baird, Sir John Moore stated no objection. His reply was as follows :

“ I am much obliged to you, for your opinion on the Gallicias and Vigo, and it is that which now probably I shall follow, should such a measure become necessary. I am, therefore, most anxious that magazines should be formed on that communication. I have written home to direct

108

OBSERVATIONS ON THE

CHAP. I. that all transports, &c. should call at Corunna,

and go to Vigo, unless otherwise directed. Co1809. January

runna must be the place for all supplies from England. The communication through Portugal is difficult and tardy.”

Unfortunately, Sir John Moore seems to have regarded the assumption of a defensive position on the Gallician frontier, and the permanent defence of that province, as a sort of dernier ressort, to be adopted only when the more perilous experiment of advancing on Valladolid or Saldanha should have been tried. The experiment was tried, and failed. The British army retreated, not to defend Gallicia, but to their ships. No minute and accurate knowledge was acquired of the localities of the country; no positions had been fortified; no depots established ; and, indefatigably pursued by a powerful enemy, the contemplated project of defending Galliciaif seriously contemplated it ever was—at once vanished into thin air.

But Gallicia did not afford the only sphere of operation, in which the army might have been employed with comparative benefit and safety. Sir John Moore might have retired across the Tagus, where, in a country of great strength

CAMPAIGN OF SIR JOHN MOORE.

109

his army might have served as a rallying point, CHAP. I. and & protection to the Spaniards in the

1809. southern provinces, to which the enemy had

January not yet penetrated. There it was that he was most dreaded by Napoleon, and there he would Rocca. have created a diversion at least as effica. Victoires et

Conquetes. cious as that of the advance on Saldanha, without incurring the inordinate risks by which that operation was attended. It is no objection to the policy of this measure to assert, that the opportunity thus afforded to the people of rallying round the standard of their country, would probably have been neglected. This may be so, and Sir John Moore was professedly a nullifidian in Spanish energy and patriotism; but the true question is, would not the army, if thus employed, have afforded a greater quantum of protection to our allies, with a smaller quantum of risk than was incurred by the advance to Sahagun, consequent on the concentration of the army.

Of that operation we would now speak. That it was one of extreme temerity is scarcely to be denied; that it was productive of the most calamitous consequences we unfortunately know.

VOL. II.

E 3

110

OBSERVATIONS ON THE

CHAP. I.

1809. January

Sir John Moore had proceeded to Alaejos, with the intention of concentrating his forces in the neighbourhood of Valladolid, when the information derived from an intercepted despatch, induced him to change his plans, and advance against Soult at Saldanha, in hope of bringing him to action before the arrival of reinforcements. Never surely was an offensive operation undertaken on the chance of a more improbable contingency. Sir John Moore could scarcely calculate on the blunders of an opponent so skilful and experienced in the game of war. Yet, by some gross and inconceivable blunder alone, could Marshal Soult have suffered himself, in the circumstances of his army, to be drawn into a battle. Soult's policy manifestly was to retreat, not to fight; to induce his enemy to advance, and thereby give time for the coming up of forces, already on the march, by which his retreat would be cut off. On the advance of the British, Soult, as a matter of course, would have fallen back on Burgos, where his corps would have effected a junction with that of Junot. Nothing, therefore, could be more visionary than the prospect of defeating Soult, while nothing could be more imminent than the

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