Perhaps the best way to describe this excellent collection of letters from the theatre of war is to quote the author's own introduction. 'The following letters contain an account of the march and actions of the British Army under Sir John Moore from the day of their (its) departure from Lisbon to that in which they embarked at Corunna. They were written on the spot and immediately as the events arose of which they are the subjects.’ Those readers who can appreciate the importance of source material will understand that it rarely comes more relevant than this. This momentous campaign and retreat is reported as it happened by one who was there and wrote down his impressions as events unfolded. This is the stuff of which history is made and is a vital addition to every library of the Peninsular War.
The brigade of Lord William Bentinck poured a well-directed fire into this concentrated mass of destruction. Three cheers from us sealed their destiny; and the bayonets of the 50th, 42nd, and 4th regiments soon completed the confusion their balls had begun. The numbers of the enemy augmented their own consternation; they fell back on each other, making a confusion as successful as our arms; and, in short, this glorious scene of valour was soon terminated by the total defeat of the column.<br>
Not a foot of ground could the French gain in any quarter; and although fresh troops came up to the support of their discomfited brethren, they were all forced to retire.<br>
The village, of course, became the next field of contention; and a most severe struggle took place. But they gave way again; and being hotly pursued by our people, I am sorry to say that in this brave chase we lost our two gallant friends, Majors Stanhope and Napier. Poor Stanhope, whilst following his friend at the head of a few men, received a shot through the heart. He exclaimed, “Oh, my God!” and dropped, Napier did not long survive him. I am told that he was bayoneted by some of the enemy whilst in the act of calling on his men to follow him to the seizure of some guns near the houses. Thus did these noble friends meet their fate in one day; thus do they lie together on the field of glory; and thus for ever may deathless laurels shade them.<br>
The 50th have suffered greatly. Indeed it is rather to be wondered at that they have not incurred more loss than they have sustained so much. Their ancient character for intrepidity and the reputation they gained at Vimeira, together with their ambition to surpass, if possible, the glories of the 42nd, precipitated this brave corps into more dangerous circumstances than perhaps strict prudence could justify. One of their own officers told me since the action, that his regiment and the 42nd could not have lost less than 250 men. Great as this may appear, yet it was trifling when compared with the essential service their enterprising courage effected in producing the success of the day.<br>
But to the field again.<br>
During this affair General Baird lost his arm; hence we were soon deprived of the assistance of this inspiriting leader. And what still farther blighted the brilliant completion of the glorious work already begun, was the fall of our commander-in-chief! He was struck by a cannon shot, and was carried expiring off the ground. The stroke was felt by us all, and by all will ever be deplored. But, thank heaven, the blow that wounded our hearts did not paralyse them; our ardour and success at this eventful moment were in their full blaze: and although the dreadful tidings of our loss were immediately spread through our right wing, and soon made their way to the left, yet neither dismay nor grief checked our courage for an instant. Vengeance as well as victory seemed to nerve every arm, and pouring on our enemies with redoubled determination, we forced them in every point to leave us the disputed ground in testimony of our advantage.<br>
This attack on our right being frustrated, its security from farther assaults from the fresh bodies of the enemy, was effected by the excellent conduct of Major-General Paget, who was supported by Lieutenant-General Frazer.<br>
Our centre was the next aim of the French, but they were equally well received as on our right wing, and as successfully repulsed. Discomfited in these several attacks, a third charge was made on our left, who were much annoyed by the French troops which had obtained possession of a village on the high road. Here again the houses became objects of dispute; and the British bayonet soon made the enemy leap from the windows, or bathe with their blood the habitations of the once peaceful inhabitants.