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Report on the
Losses at Corunna
Twenty years as a reenactor, Mr Raynor is an experienced and thorough researcher in England and contributes articles regularly to Magazines such as First Empire and the Age of Napoleon. Mr Raynor assists the Discriminating General considerably in unearthing key documents and artifacts that allow us to more accurately manufacture of our products.
The following report of the Board of Claims contains some interesting insights into the workings of the British Army concerning losses sustained during the retreat to Corunna. I have added to the report extracts from the memoirs of those who survived the retreat, including those of Sir Robert Ker Porter, William Green of the 95th, John Harris of the 95th, John Macfarlane of the 71st and Robert Blakeney of the 28th. These memoirs give valuable information concerning the retreat and largly collaberate the findings of the Board. Coincidently, after the report was published, a memorandum was issued by Horse Guards reminding General Officers that they would be held responsible for the loss of such articles as camp equipage and camp necessaries. (1)
Board of Claims, Great George Street, 26th May, 1809.
" The adjutant General having by letters...signified your commands that the claims of the regiments and individuals named...43rd, 52nd, 71st, 95th, Major Rose 42nd, Capt.Macneils 91st, Capt.Campbell 92nd, Capt.Grant 42nd, Capt. Connelly 26th, Lieut.Graham 6th, Lieut.Robinson 32nd, Capt. Hamilton 5th, Lt.Fraser 92nd, Lt.Rose 92nd, Lt.Col. Harvey 79th, Capt.McNeil 79th...Should be reported upon as soon as possible, they being under orders for immediate service (2)...including also the claims of the detachment of the 3rd Regiment of foot and of Colonel Crawford, the Board understanding that they are likewise under-orders for service. The claims of the 2nd Battalions of the 43rd, 52nd and 95th Regiments...will be immediately examined, it appearing that several of their officers and many of their men have been transferred to the 1st Battalions. The very peculiar circumstances in which the British Army was placed during the late campaign, particularly on the retreat to Corunna and Vigo...the difficulties and privations it experienced and the losses it sustained, have long been a matter of too general noteriety to admit of a doubt. The Board neverless considering the great importance of the trust confided in them, both with respect to the nature and extent of the claims, on which they would have to decide, and the consequent magnitude of the indemnification to be granted at the public expense...felt it their duty not to deviate from any of the usual or established rules, without first calling for evidence to prove the facts... With this view they have...examined several General and other Officers, upon the subject and the result of such examinations has formed the basis of various opinions and resolutions...of which the following is a summary:
Causes of the Losses
1. It appears that large quantities of Regimental accoutrements and appointments, of Officers Baggage, and camp equipage, and of N.C.O.'s and mens necessaries, were left behind, or destroyed, at various times, and places, for want of the means of conveyance, the horses and mules having been so worn out with fatigue, want of forage, shoes as to be unable to proceed, and it consequently became necessary to destroy them. (Sir Robert Ker Porter would later recall that,"Our draft animals and baggage mules having almost all perished, and no means of recruiting them arising, we were consequently obliged (dreadful necessity !) to relinquih many carts full of the sick and fatigued, as well as others laden with necessaries...". Porter further recollected that at Corunna," Our cavalry and the artillery horses on entering the city were found in such a state of debility and irremediable lameness from want of shoes, that many fell dead in the streets, and more were obliged to be shot in mercy to their sufferings" Blackeney of the 28th, on arriving at Villa Franca, saw that "The slaughter of the horses continued throughout the day... upon my inguiring of the men how it was that horses in apparantly tolerable condition were incapable of at least proceeding quietly along, the invariable answer which I received was, that from the roughness of the road, hardened by continued frost, they cast their shoes, and that they had not a nail to fasten on those picked up, nor a shoe to replace those lost".) That in the town of Lugo alone, not less than from 200 to 250 horses were shot under these circumstances. That in the case of one Regiment -- the 15th Lt.Dragoons -- there consisting of 700 men, not more than 300 men were mounted on the return of the Regt. to Corunna. (William Green in the 95th observed that when the horses were taken lame and could not keep up with the army,"...the rider was ordered to dismount, throw his saddle bags on his shoulder, draw his pistol, and fire the ball through his horses head; leaving him with the saddle and all the other trappings, and the poor fellows would have to walk with knee boots and spurs, in the best manner they could to Corunna. We felt sorry for them, as they were not used to walking".)
That the horses were constantly falling down on the road, and their backs were so offensive, from being in a state of mortification, that the stench was frequently intolerable. (Porter commented about this at Corunna,"The heavy rains have swollen and burst many of the carcasses and the infected air hovers so rancorously about our heads, that it is almost impossible to pass in any direction without feeling violent convulsions of stomach,...")
2. That in addition to the hardships which the army had to encounter, from these and other circumstances, the inhabitants in almost every part of the country through which the troops passed were continually watching opportunities to plunder both Officers and Men, so that no vigilance on the part of either, could protect them from depredations of this kind which appear to have been committed to a very great extent. (This reason for the losses by the army is largly unfair to the Spanish people, particularly as the surviving evidence from memoirs points to British Troops as perpetuating most of the plundering. Macfarlane of the 71st recalled,"I must say the people were very kind to me and to others also. But how could they continue to be kind? for when we left their houses in the morning, or at any time, there was something stolen away". Captain Gordon of the cavalry remembered,"...parties of drunken soldiers were committing all kinds of enormities, several houses were in flames. The gutters were overflowing with rum, a number of punchons had been staved in the street and a promiscuous rabble were drinking and filling bottles in the street". To this can be added the recollection of William Verner 7th Hussars,"...for miles the men were scouring the country and plundering every house". While Moore was to have at least one soldier hung for plundering, the punishment handed out to the 71st for their antics was of a less terminal kind. Macfarland whistfully recalled that."Some of the men had taken from the inhabitants honey and potatoes. The Colonel paid for them, and we had to pay for them afterwards, three halfpence each man".)
3. That verbal orders were at various times given by General and other Officers to destroy or throw away, accoutrements, Baggage, Camp equipage and necessaries, and to destroy horses. (Porter wrote that, "...Sir John Moore while we at Villafranca, to facilitate our march, had ordered whatever magazines and carriages which he considered as more cumbersome than useful to be destroyed". Blakeney of the 28th also remembered the destruction at Villafranca,"The Whole Town seemed on fire. This conflagration was caused by the destruction of stores and provisions, and so tenacious were the Commissariat in preserving everything for the flames that they had guards posted around even the biscuits and salt meat to prevent the men as they passed from taking anything away...". However,"...many of the men had the hardihood as they passed to stick their bayonets,and Sergeants their pikes into the salt pork which was actually being set fire to. Several junks were thus taken away..." Earlier at Astorga,"...there were a great many pairs of shoes destroyed. Though a fourth of the army were in want of them, and I among the rest, yet they were consumed alongst with the other stores in the magazines" regretted a soldier of the 71st. Finally, on arrival at Corunna, the Third Hussars of the K.G.L. had the heart breaking task of shooting their horses which had carried them faithfully throughout the retreat. The reason for this sad act being the difficulty and delay in trying to embark the horses whilst pressed by the enemy and "...to prevent them falling into the hands of the french, where their sufferings would have been protracted...Two hundred and ninety horses of the Legion were thus disposed of...".)
4. That Baggage was sometimes left behind from the necessity of employing the horses and mules on services of greater importance. (The Treasurer of Moores army was carried in two carts pulled by oxen. However the retreat proved too much for the oxen and the armys rearguard eventually caught up with the carts. This led to a somewhat one-sided conversation between the Paymaster-General and General Paget gleefully recorded by Blakeney,"The treasure of the army, Sir, is close in the rear, and the bullocks being jaded are unable to proceed; I therefore want fresh animals to draw it forward" said the Paymaster. Pagets response was to give the unfortunate clerk a right dressing down, concluding with the phrase,"...ought to be hanged". This had the desired effect of stimulating the oxen to further efforts. But all to no avail. The rearguard soon caught up with the carts again and this time the armys coinage was,"...rolled down the precipice, their silvery notes were accompanied by a noble bass, for two guns were thundering forth their applause into Soults dark brown column". No recorded attempt was made to use either horses or oxen from other army transport to even save the armys treasurer. Though the Hussars of the K.G.L. using their own initiative managed to save some of the money, it was in the main abandoned to the elements, French, locals, and a few voracious characters.)
5. That from the hurry and confusion which prevailed on the re-embarkation of the Army at Corunna, as well as from the want of Boats to convey accoutrements, baggage, etc, on board the transports, very considerable losses were sustained. (The History of the K.G.L. records that,"...the men were hurried off to the ships with little regard to regiments or vessels, and many transports were overloaded, while others had not half their compliment, the baggage also could not be entirely brought off, and the German hussars were among the other suffers in this particular. Macfarlane of the 71st, upon reaching Corunna beach in the dark, was rowed out to sea, where,"...the next thing was to find out the ship where the regiment was in. They [the sailors] rowed from one ship to another, but could not find it out, We got orders to get into any ship...we had now a good company of men belonging to five or six regiments. We had an Officer with about eight or nine of our regiment". Another member of the 71st also encountered the same confusion,"There was no regularity in our taking the boats. The transport that I got to had part of seven regiments on board". Whilst Green of the 95th wrote later of having members of 29 different regiments aboard his particular ship.)
6. That many articles of various descriptions were lost in consequence of Regiments not embarking in the same transport with their baggage, which upon their arrival in England, was found to be in a very deficient state. (Blakeney of the 28th lamented,"Scarely a regiment got on board the vessel which contained their baggage, and the consequence was, that on quitting our ships we presented an appearence of much dirt and misery".)
7. It appears also from the testimony of, and from Documents produced by the Military Superintendent of Hospitals that considerable quantities of clothing and necessaries belonging to sick men of different Regiments, were destroyed in the several Hospitals upon their landing in England, to prevent infection, and that a very considerable loss of accoutrements was likewise sustained from the same and other causes. (Edward Costello, who had just enlisted into the 95th, watched the arrival of his new regiment at the barracks, "The appearence of the men was squalid and miserable in the extreme. There was scarcely a man amoungst them, who had not lost some of his appointments, and many, owing to the horrors of that celebrated retreat, were even without rifles. Their clothing too was in tatters, and in such an absolute state of filth as to swarm with vermin. New clothing was immediately served out and the old ordered to be burnt, which order was put into execution at the back of our barracks...". Green also of the 95th remembered of his return to England,"Such a lot of rag-a-muffins never landed at Portsmouth before. We were so filthy with vermin...",on arrival at Hythe barracks,"Our new clothing was served out, and then a fire was made in the barrack square, and all our clothing, shirts and flannels we burned, and all the livestock they contained!".)
The Decisions of the Board
1. With respect to Colonels losses the Board have merely deceided upon the merits of the several claims as not being in possession of any Regulation for fixing the Quantum of allowance, in such cases they have not felt themselves authorised to decide thereupon:
2. The Board being of Opinion that eighty dollars (18 pounds sterling) should be fixed as the maximum, or highest rate which ought to be allowed for Mules...that in the instances wherein Mules were delivered up to the Commissariat Department at Corunna in pursuance of a General Order to that effect, 25 Dollars only have been allowed for each mule, without reference to the price at which mules are purchased; which in most cases appears to have considerable exceeded the 25 Dollars allowed under that order...that the difference between the sum of 25 Dollars received, or to be received, from the Commissary in Chief in consideration of each mule so delivered up, The sum actually paid for the same, not exceeding 80 Dollars ought in equity to be allowed in every such case..."
3. The Board have made a distinction between losses in store in Portugal, and those in Spain, conceiving that the circumstances, must be very strong indeed to warrant any allowance whatever in the former case, and the claims of this description which have hitherto come under their cognizance have been disallowed accordingly.
4. It appearing from reference to the General Orders issued...in the advance of the army from Lisbon, that Officers were directed to leave their heavy baggage in store there, and to carry with them, only that proportion of baggage, coming under the description of "Light equipment for the field", as the means for conveying the same would be...very limited. The Board consider that two thirds of an Officers Personnal Baggage, and one half of his Camp equipage (3) were full as much as he ought to have taken with him, agreeably to the said order. They have therefore not allowed more in any instance for losses sustained during the advance and retreat of the army.
5. The foregoing rule is considered to be equally applicable to the Column which marched from Corunna, it appearing that the Officers of that Column were restricted to the same limited means of conveyance for their baggage.
6. It appearing to the Board...to disallow various claims made by Officers of different Regiments for Baggage damaged and rendered unserviceable by the almost incessant wet weather which prevailed during the retreat of the army to Corunna and Vigo. The admission of such claims not being warranted by the Kings Regulations. Yet, as it has been proved to the satisfaction of the Board, that from the very peculiar and pressing nature of the service on which the army was employed, it frequently happened that Officers had no opportunity afforded them even to open their baggage for the purpose of drying the same. In consequence of which it rotted and became totally useless. ...the final rejection of claims of this description would be attended with very serious inconvenience, if not ruin, to many of the claimants, who depending wholly upon their pay for support, have no means whatever of re-equiping themselves for service, unless some pecuniary assistance is afford them for that purpose. The Board...recommend the claims of Officers so situated to the favourable consideration of Government, and that the several sums thus recommended, and which will be specified in the different reports, being equal in amount to what would have been granted, had the baggage in question been taken by the enemy or lost under circumstances entitling them to public indemnification...care being taken in that event, to point out to each individual that such deviation from the ordinary rules, is by no means to be considered a presedent for admitting future claims of this kind..." (Compare this favourable attitude with the experience of Macfarlane; Having been wounded at Vimeiro and then surviving the Corunna retreat, he found on return to Britain that he had to renew his knapsack,"...and it was well for them that lost theirs for they got L2 2s 0d. I should have let mine drop off my back, for it was not worth two shillings. After receiving what things I was in need of, I was in debt above five pounds, but I received five pounds for my wound, and this paid my debt".)
7. In cases where the sums claimed by Officers for loss of Baggage, did not exceed the rates fixed by the Kings Regulations, the Board have not made any deduction on account of certain articles which tho' not improper for Officers to have had with them, do not appear to come strictly under that head, the specific articles which ought to be considered as constituting an officers Baggage not being defined in the existing Regulations.
8. It is the opinion of the Board that the following sums should be considered as the highest rates of allowance for canteens in cases where claims on that head appear to be admissible, viz to a : Subaltern........7.7.0 Captain..........8.8.0 Field Officer....10.10.0 (Suggested by the C-in-C Subaltern........3.3.0 Captain..........oe4.4.0 Field Officer....6.6.0)
9. And that a sum not exceeding six guineas should be allowed for a pair of pistols, to infantry officers entitled to indemnification for the loss of that article (the C-in-C does not see any reason for accommodating this allowance). 10. ...claims for the loss of maps of the country where an armys employed, do not seem to come within the existing rules of public indemnification. Officers whose situation render it necessary for them to be possessed of such articles are entitled to a compensation for the same, when lost upon service...if properly substantiated accordingly. (The C-in-C does not see any sufficient reason for accomodating this allowance) 11.Claims for money have in no case been admitted unless it... was public money, and that it ought to have been in the possession of the person claiming indemnification on account thereof, at the time the loss was sustained.
12.Although no provision appears to have been made by any of the existing regulations for granting indemnification on account of the loss of mess utensils, yet as it is the general usage of the service, for every Regiment to have a mess; And in these times such a custom seems to be absolutely necessary, the pay of Officers not being sufficient to enable them to live separately...that Regiments should receive a reasonable remuneration for the loss of those articles, in cases where it appears, that the service on which they were lost, fairly warranted their being taken with the Regiment. The...Public should only be charged with a very moderate sum for losses of this description, and that for articles strictly necessary, but by no means for those of luxury or show...that no greater allowance than one hundred pounds should in any instance be granted for an admissible claim of this nature...
13. ...On all future occasions a committee to consist of one field officer and two captains, or as nearly in that proportion as possible should be formed at each Regiment, as soon after the loss shall have been sustained...to investigate the merits of the several claims intended to be submitted...also, to see that every claim is made out in strict conformity to the forms prescribed by the regulations. The several claims to be afterwards examined, and properly certified by the C.O. Three copies of every such claim to be made out by the claimant, and each to be certified in the same manner as the first. One copy to be left with the Regiment, one to be delivered to the General or C.O. of the forces on the station, to be by him transmitted to government for consideration and final settlement. Unless he shall deem it necessary to convene a Board of General Officers on the spot, for...final deciding upon the personal claims of the officers and men. ...Claims of Colonels, on accounts of Regimental losses must always be settled in England, although claims ought to be examined in the first instance at the Regiment in the same manner as the others. ...the third copy to be sent by a different conveyance, or by a subsequent opportunity to the regimental agent, to be delivered to the proper Department in England, in order to provide against the...accidental miscarriage, or non-arrival of the copy sent home by the General Officer commanding.
14. ...Many claims have been admitted which do not strictly come within the established rules of public indemnification, such deviation from the usual course, is not to be considered as a precedent upon any future occasion, and has only arisen out of the very special circumstances attending the service on which the army was employed during the late campaign...an intemiation to this effect should be communicated to each Regiment, and...be entered in their respective orderly books.
1. Memorandum, Horse Guards, 30th May 1809. "General Officers commanding on foreign stations are to make it known to the different corps under their command, that they will be called upon to pay for such articles of camp equipage and camp necessaries which (being in charge of the corps respectively) are lost through neglect or destroyed from wilful abuse, at a rate founded on the value of the same. as stated in the accompanying schedule. Scale of the Full and Half value of articles of camp equipage 13th December 1806. ---------------------------- Full Value/ Half Value.
Round Tent (the Duke of Yorks Pattern) with poles, pins, mallets, etc. Complete.....L5 13s. 0d /L2 16s 6d
Poles, per sett.............. 5s. 6d /2s 9d
Pins, large, per 100........... 6s/ 3s
Pins, small, per 100........ 3s 6d /1s 9d
Mallets, large, per dozen........ 9s 6d/ 4s 9d
Mallets, small, per dozen........ 5s 6d /2s 9d
Iron collar, each................ 1s 6d /9d
Camp Colour Pole................. 3s 4 1/4d 1s 8d
Camp Colour Flag................. 1s 1d /6 1/2d
Powder Bag....................... 8s 4d /4s 2d
Drum case........................ 6s 1 1/4d /3s 1/2d
Bill Hook........................ 1s 11 1/4d/ 11 1/2d
Flanders Kettle.................. 10s 6 1/2d /5s 3 1/4d
Wood Canteen..................... 1s 9 3/4d /10 3/4d
Ditto strap...................... 1s 4d/ 8d
Haversack........................ 1s 4 3/4d /8 1/4d
Felling axe...................... 3s 3d /1s 7d
Cap and sling for ditto.......... 2s 9 1/4d /1s 4 1/2d
Corn sack........................ 4s 3/4d /2s 1/4d
Set of forage cords ........... 3s 3d/ 1s 7 1/2d
Water Bucket..................... 5s 10d /2s 11d
Saddle water deck................ 7s 6 1/2d /3s 9 1/4d
Picket Rope...................... 8s 1/2d /4s 1/4d
Picket Pole...................... 3s 10 1/4d /1s 11d
Picket Mallet.................... 1s 7 1/2d /9 3/4d
Nose Bag......................... 2s 4 1/2d /1s 2d
Pack saddle with trees and Haucurns (Hawsers)...L4 0s 2d /L2 0s 1d
Pack saddle with trees and Baggage straps. .L3 6s 8 3/4d/ L1 13s 4 1/2d
Palliasse........................ 4s 10 3/4d /2s 5 1/4d
Bolster case..................... 1s 1 3/4d/ 6 3/4d
Sheet............................ 6s 10 1/2d /3s 5 1/4d
Blanket.......................... 8s 11d /4s 5 1/2d
Coverlet......................... 6s 1/2d /3s 1/4d
Hospital Marquee and Tent, Complete....L45 10s 10d /L22 15s 5d
Ammunition Box................... 18s 1/4d /9s
Medicine Pannier.................L1 7s 7d /13s 9 1/2d
Bridle for Bat Horse............. 11s 8d /5s 10d
2. The Regiments and Officers mentioned were most probably under orders for embarkation on the Walcheren expedition or re-embarkation for the Peninsula.
3. General Order, Applicable to the Troops destined for Continental Service. Horse Guards, 12th July 1808.
On orders being received for embarkation, all heavy and superfluous Baggage...are to be left at the Barracks from which the respective corps march... Under the head of Heavy Baggage is comprehended spare cloathing, Arms, Accoutrements, and Appointments. By superfluous Baggage is meant, the Baggage of Officers, beyond what can be contained in one trunk and one portmanteau, which with a pair of canteens, and Bedding of the lightest, and most portable kind, must (independant of camp equipage) constitute the whole baggage of each Officer on service. The Baggage of the different ranks of Regimental Officers, must not, in the whole, exceed the following weights, and the Baggage of Officers on the Staff, must be regulated on the same principal : cwt.each C.O.'s of Corps.............................2 1/2 Field Officers..............................2 Captains....................................1 1/2 Subalterns..................................1 Adjutant, Surgeon, Paymaster................1 1/2 each Assistant Surgeon, Quarter Master...........1 each
Report of the Board of Claims WO 26/41 P.R.O.Kew Memorandum (Loss of camp equipage) WO 26/41 P.R.O.Kew General Orders, Regulations and Circular letters, Authors Collection. William Green,"Where Duty Calls Me". The Recollections of Rifleman Harris. Porter,"Letters from Portugal and Spain". John Macfarlane,"A Peninsula Private". A Soldier of the 71st. Edward Costello,"Adventures of a Soldier". Robert Blakeney,"A Boy in the Peninsula". Capt.Henry Beaufroy,"Scloppetaria". Regulations for the Rifle Corps 1801. D.W.Bailey, The Baker Rifle, Guns Review.
Copyright The Discriminating General 1997