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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Castrioti

January 16th, 1809 - The Battle of Corunna

Conflict: The Peninsular War

Combatants: British vs. French

Location: Spain

Outcome: British victory


In March of 1808, France invaded Spain and placed Joseph, the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, on the throne. By the end of May, the Spanish had risen in armed rebellion against the French. The British sent money, arms, and and expeditionary force commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley (Duke of Wellington). Wellesley, however, was recalled in August and replaced with Sir John Moore.

The Battle of Corunna by R. K. Porter

By September of 1808, Moore's 35,000 man army, along with over 100,000 regulars and guerillas, had driven the French back to the Ebro River. A perturbed Napoleon dispatched reinforcements and, on November 5th, arrived in person to take command. With 194,000 men, Napoleon recaptured Madrid and sent the British Expeditionary Force retreating for the coast. By January 1st, Napoleon was satisfied with the direction of the French efforts in Spain and returned to Paris. Nicolas Jean de Dieu Soult, with the remaining French forces was tasked with pursuing the British.

La Coruna (French and Scottish soldiers at the Battle of Corunna) by Henry A. Payne

On January 16th, Moore's 15,000 soldiers had withdrawn 250 miles to the coastal city of Corunna in good order. Soult attacked as the British prepared to evacuate by sea. In an intense battle, the British managed to throw back the 20,000 man French army. Sir John Moore, leading the rear guard as his soldiers boarded the waiting vessels, was mortally wounded and died on the field. But the British Expeditionary Force had escaped destruction.

The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna by George Jones

Point of Interest:

  • On hearing of the French setbacks, Napoleon referred to his commanders in Spain as "post-office inspectors".

  • Moore is considered the father of British light infantry tactics and was beloved by his soldiers. His body is buried in a tomb at Corunna.


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Sources:


Dupuy, Trevor N., Johnson, Curt, & Bongard, David L. (1992). The Harper's Encyclopedia of Military Biography. New York: Castle Books (HarperCollins).


Dupuy, R. Ernest & Dupuy, Trevor N. (1993). The Harper's Encyclopedia of Military History. New York: HarperCollins.


Eggenberger, David (1985). An Encyclopedia of Battles: Accounts of Over 1,560 Battles from 1479 B.C. to the Present. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.


Haythornthwaite, Philip J. (1990). The Napoleonic Source Book. New York: Facts on File.

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