Sunday, 11 January 2009

The battle of Corunna (january 16, 1809)

tile mapThe Battle of Corunna (or La Corunna, A Coruña, La Coruña, or Elviña) refers to a battle of the Peninsular War that took place on January 16, 1809, when a French army under Marshal Soult attacked the British under Sir John Moore who were attempting to leave northern Spain following an unsuccessful campaign.
After a long retreat marked by privation, and winter conditions, the main British force under Moore (another contingent comprising Alten's and Craufurd's light brigades retired towards Vigo) arrived in Corunna on 11th January and would have immediately evacuated by sea but found that the transport vessels had not yet arrived. Meanwhile, the French army began to arrive the next day, building up strength as they arrived from the march. The long-awaited transport ships also arrived on the 14th and that evening the British evacuated their sick, some horses and some of the guns, cavalrymen and gunners.
Moore had deployed his army to cover the evacuation by placing the main part of it on a ridge astride the road to Corunna, a mile and a half south of the harbour. The left flank was covered by the river Mero and the left and centre of the ridge was quite defensible. The western and lower end of this ridge was more vulnerable and could be swept by guns on the rocky heights of the loftier range opposite, and the ground further west consisted of more open terrain extending as far as Corunna which might be provide the means of turning the whole position. Moore held two divisions back in reserve a little north and westwards in order to guard the right flank and to prevent a turning movement.
As day broke on 16th January the French were in position on the heights and all through the morning both armies observed each across the valley between them. By afternoon Moore considered an attack unlikely and he ordered the first divisions to make their way to the port, the rest of the army would follow at dusk, but shortly after, at 2pm, he learned that the French were attacking.
Soult's plan was to move against the strongly-placed British infantry of the left and centre in order to contain it while the infantry division of Mermet attacked the more vulnerable British right above the village of Elviña. The cavalry was deployed further west near the more open country leading to Corunna. If the attacks succeeded they could seize western end of the British lines and push on to cut off the bulk of the army from Corunna. Mermet’s infantry advanced quickly and soon pushed the British picquets from Elviña and attacked the heights beyond. At the same time a French brigade pushed up the valley on the British right in an attempt to turn their flank.
The fiercest fighting took place in and around Elviña as the possession of this village changed hands several times, and the British suffered particularly from the fire of the heavy artillery on the heights opposite. Moore remained in this area to direct the battle ordering one regiment to fire down upon the flank of the French column that was attempting the turning movement and calling up the reserve to meet it. The British commander was struck by a cannonball and fell mortally wounded. For a time the British were without a commander, which hampered attempts at a counter attack in this crucial sector, but the fighting continued unabated. Further west the French cavalry attempted to push forward as part of the flank attack but they were hampered by the rough terrain and eventually driven back by the advance of the British reserves.

Soult's monument to MooreNight brought an end to the fighting by which time the French had been repulsed and had returned to their original positions; both sides holding much the same ground as before the fight.
At around 9pm the British began to silently withdraw from their lines, leaving behind strong picquets who maintained watch-fires throughout the night. At daybreak on the 17th January the picquets were withdrawn behind the rearguard and went aboard ship; by morning most of the army had embarked. Finally, on the 18th January, the British rearguard embarked, the small Spanish garrison under General Alcedo faithfully holding the citadel until the fleet was well out to sea.
The campaign pointed up the difficulties of a winter campaign, which further contributed to many of the privations sustained by the army. The British returned to Portugal later that year, refreshed, resupplied and with a new commander, Sir Arthur Wellesley.

Extracted from
To know more: Corunna 1809.Sir John Moore’s Fighting Retreat. P. Haythornthwaite. Campaign 83. Osprey Military Publishing. 2001


  1. Hi Rafa - have you been to the battlefield yourself?


  2. Ian
    I have visited the Campus of the University of Corunna at Elviña, and I have seen the Soult's monument but I have not visited the bettlefield, that has been not preserved.

  3. I love the map!
    (I grew up in San Diego - no, not the castillo; the San Diego in California - lol)

  4. Rafa,

    Excellent synopsis as before.

    Yet another bicentennial of the Great Napoleonic Battles.

  5. Thanks guys... the credit will go to wikipedia authors!
    The tiled map is beautiful and it is located in a windowed gallery ('mirador') overlooking the French positions. The white, black and blue points show, respectively the sites where Moore was wound, dead and his tomb.