Sir John Moore was a British general, born in Glasgow in 1761, who did distinguished service in the Napoleonic Wars, but who is best known for the retreat of his army, and his death and burial in 1809, commemorated in a poem by Charles Wolfe.

He served in Corsica in 1794, the West Indies in 1796, Ireland in 1798, Holland in 1799, Egypt in 1801, and Sicily and Sweden both in 1802.

Having been sent with an army to Spain in 1808 to help wrest it and Portugal from the French, he assumed the command in August. In October, Portugal having been freed, he received orders to cooperate with Spanish forces. They advanced against superior French armies but could not defeat them, and he was let down by lack of participation by the Spanish forces. When Madrid was captured by the French and Napoleon himself came into Spain to lead the battle against him, he had no option but to retreat, and in a freezing December led his army of 25 000 towards the port of A Coruña in Galicia, then known in English as Corunna, where the British navy would be able to rescue them. Napoleon had sent 70 000 troops against him.

Marshal Soult harried his retreat and there was a battle on 16 January 1809. Though his army was by now desperate and disorganized, Moore defeated the French but was mortally wounded by grapeshot, and was hurriedly buried in the morning before the embarkation. This was vividly described in the classic poem from 1817 by Charles Wolfe (1791-1823):

The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna

Not a drum was heard, nor a funeral note,
  As his corse to the rampart we hurried;
Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot
  O'er the grave where our hero we buried.

We buried him darkly at dead of night,
  The sods with our bayonets turning;
By the struggling moonbeam's misty light
  And the lanthorn dimly burning.

No useless coffin enclosed his breast,
  Nor in sheet nor in shroud we wound him;
But he lay like a warrior taking his rest
  With his martial cloak around him.

Few and short were the prayers we said,
  And we spoke not a word of sorrow;
But we steadfastly gazed on the face that was dead,
  And we bitterly thought of the morrow.

We thought, as we hollowed his narrow bed
  And smoothed down his lonely pillow,
That the foe and the stranger would tread o'er his head,
  And we far away on the billow!

Lightly they'll talk of the spirit that's gone
  And o'er his cold ashes upbraid him,--
But little he'll reck, if they let him sleep on
  In the grave where a Briton has laid him.

But half of our heavy task was done
  When the clock struck the hour for retiring:
And we heard the distant and random gun
  That the foe was sullenly firing.

Slowly and sadly we laid him down,
  From the field of his fame fresh and gory;
We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,
  But left him alone with his glory.

For details of the battle see

The poem's title is sometimes given as "at Corunna" rather than "after".

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