Uncial Press

The Uncial Letter

August2023

Ginny McBlain Contemplates The Retreat to Corunna...

Once upon a time, over two hundred years ago, when Napoleon rampaged all over Europe, the British high command found themselves with a dilemma. They had recalled their three top generals from Portugal following the disastrous Convention of Cintra. The next field general in the army's hierarchy, was Lieutenant General Sir John Moore, beloved by his troops. His military expertise was never in question, although politically he was not favored by the Tory government. Still, he was given command of the Britain's only field army, with orders to support the unreliable Spanish armies against the French, led by none other than Napoleon himself.

Moore took command in early October 1808 with 20,000 men. During the next two months, the British won several small battles to stop the French. But by December 23rd, Moore learned that the French were marching full force against him. Greatly outnumbered, Sir John had no choice but to retreat in order to preserve his army. Thus began the infamous retreat to Corunna--200 miles over treacherous mountain terrain in the worst possible weather conditions.

It is difficult to describe briefly the horrendous "march to death" as several books on the retreat have been titled. Pursued by the French, now under the command of Marshal Soult, the troops marched in deep snow along winding tracks. With them were heavily loaded wagons and artillery cannons, pulled by already exhausted oxen and horses. The baggage train included the usual camp followers--women and children. Horses and people had great difficulty staying upright on the ice-covered ground. Then the snow turned to rain and the track became a quagmire. Though knee deep in mud and assailed by bone-chilling wind, the vermin infested troops trudged on, wearing uniforms worn out by the appalling weather and hard use. Shoes and boots fell apart, the tall felt shakos flopped. Discipline broke down, as exhausted, starving troops rampaged, pillaged, and raped the local villages in drunken rage. And yet, the men soldiered on, some bare-footed, leaving bloody trails in the snow.

Draft animals dropped dead in their tracks. Men, women, and children died of exhaustion, disease, injury, and sniping by the enemy, who had refused an out and out battle. Moore's rear guard performed admirably in skirmish after skirmish. During the clash at Cacabellos, a 95th Rifles sharpshooter with a Baker rifle shot and killed a French General from a tremendous distance.

On January 11th the army descended the mountains only to find no transports in the harbor at Coruna. Waiting, they rested in the spring-like sunshine. By the 16th, the French had decided to fight. In the ensuing battle Sir John Moore was killed, but the British won the day and stole away on the British ships that had finally arrived. The French claimed victory and occupied Corunna.

A monstrous storm in the Bay of Biscay blew the transports off course and scattered the ships from Dover to Land's End. Two transports foundered on Cornish rocks with considerable loss of life.

Many in Britain vilified Moore. One who did not was Marshal Soult, who personally placed a monument on Moore's grave in tribute to a worthy opponent. Moore made mistakes, true, but much fault rests with the high command.

Why have I provided this brief and sketchy historical summary? The retreat has all the elements of a compelling tale-great characters, conflict, suspense, and a riveting climax. Many Regency authors have mentioned the retreat in our stories. The hero of Honor Bound, is a survivor of the Battle of Corunna. Lack of space prevented telling the fascinating details. If you are inclined to learn more, I recommend two books. March of Death by Christopher Summerville is a gripping and readable account. In Corunna 1809 Sir John Moore's Fighting Retreat author Philip Haythornthwaite used of the orders of battle, maps, and pictures to paint a vivid visual to support his narrative of the retreat from all sides-French, British, and Spanish.

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We have a varied selection of Regency romances among our offerings. Some are light and frivolous, some more serious, but all are carefully crafted to take a reader back to that fascinating period. One of our favorites is Ginny McBlain's Honor Bound, the story of a returned soldier still carrying the pain and the nightmares that are too often the price of defending one's home from the ravages of war.

When new Duke of Lyndhurst, Lieutenant Colonel Miles Barclay, arrives home from the Peninsular War severely wounded, he has no memory of how he was injured. Nor can he understand why someone seems to want to kill him. Even worse, he finds the rector's daughter, a lovely young woman now, rather than the schoolgirl he remembers, taking care of his infant half-brother, his neglected estate, and before he realizes it, himself. Claire has loved him since she was a child, but he shows no inclination to return her devotion. What will it take to soothe Miles' tortured soul? And to open his eyes--and his heart--to love? You'll find the answers in Honor Bound (ISBN 978-1-60174-184-4, $6.99), everywhere ebooks are sold.

Honor Bound cover

Usually this time of year we wish you all a great vacation, but given the bizarre weather we've seen all over the world, we can only wish you cooler weather, less--or more, depending on your location--rain, and a comfortable, shady place to curl up with a good story...one of ours, of course.

Star & Jude