John Moore (British Army officer)

John Moore (British Army officer)
John Moore
Sir John Moore by Sir Thomas Lawrence.jpg
Portrait, oil on canvas, of Sir John Moore (1761–1809) by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769–1830)
Born 13 November 1761
Glasgow, Scotland
Died 16 January 1809
A Coruña, Spain
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1776 – 1809 
Rank Lieutenant-General
Battles/wars American War of Independence
Peninsular War
Awards Order of the Bath
Other work Member of Parliament
Monument in Glasgow.

Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore, KB (13 November 1761 – 16 January 1809) was a British soldier and General. He is best known for his military training reforms and for his death at the Battle of Corunna, in which his force was defeated but gained a tactical advantage[1] over a French army under Marshal Soult during the Peninsular War.


Early years

He was born in Glasgow, the son of John Moore, a doctor and writer, and the older brother of Vice Admiral Sir Graham Moore. He attended Glasgow High School, but at the age of eleven joined his father and Douglas, the young 16 year old 8th Duke of Hamilton, (1756–1799), his father's pupil, on a grand tour of France, Italy and Germany. This included a two-year stay in Geneva, where Moore's education continued.

Military and political career 1776–90

He joined the British Army in 1776 as an ensign in the 51st Foot then based in Minorca. He first saw action in 1778 during the American War of Independence as a lieutenant in the 82nd Regiment of Foot (1778), which was raised in Lanarkshire for service in North America by 8th Duke of Hamilton.

In 1779, he distinguished himself in action during the Penobscot Expedition, when a small British detachment held off a much larger rebel American force until reinforcements arrived.

In 1783, he returned to Britain and in 1784 was elected to Parliament as the Member for Lanark Burghs, a seat he held until 1790.

In 1787, he was made Major and joined the 60th briefly before returning to the 51st. In 1791 his unit was assigned to the Mediterranean and he was involved in campaigning in Corsica and was wounded at Calvi. He was given a Colonelcy and became Adjutant-General to Sir Charles Stuart. Friction between Moore and the new British viceroy of Corsica led to his recall and posting to the West Indies under Sir Ralph Abercromby.

Moore in Ireland 1798

In 1798, he was made Major-General and served in the suppression of the republican rebellion raging in Ireland. His personal intervention was credited with turning the tide at the battle of Foulksmills on 20 June and he regained control of Wexford town before the ruthless General Lake, thereby possibly preventing its sacking. Although the rebellion was crushed with great brutality, Moore stood out from most other commanders for his humanity and refusal to perpetrate atrocities.

Moore and military training

In 1799, he commanded a brigade in the expedition to Egmont-op-Zee, where his force was badly defeated and he himself was seriously injured. He recovered to lead the 52nd regiment during their campaigns in Egypt, having become colonel of that regiment in 1801 on the death of General Cyrus Trapaud.[2]

He returned to England in 1803 to command a brigade at Shorncliffe camp near Folkestone, where he established the innovative training regime that produced Britain's first permanent light infantry regiments. He had a reputation as an exceptionally humane leader and trainer of men; it is said that when new buildings were being constructed at the camp and the architect asked him where the paths should go, he told him to wait some months and see where the men walked, then put the paths there. The barracks are now named after him. Additionally, Army Training Regiment Winchester is named after him: Sir John Moore Barracks. Sir Arthur Bryant wrote, "Moore's contribution to the British Army was not only that matchless Light Infantry who have ever since enshrined his training, but also the belief that the perfect soldier can only be made by evoking all that is finest in man - physical, mental and spiritual".

War with France 1803–1808

When it became clear that Napoleon was planning an invasion of England, Moore was put in charge of the defence of the coast from Dover to Dungeness. It was on his initiative that the Martello Towers were constructed (complementing the already constructed Shorncliffe Redoubt), following a pattern he had been impressed with in Corsica, where the prototype tower, at Mortella Point, had offered a stout resistance to British land and sea forces. He also initiated the cutting of the Royal Military Canal in Kent and Sussex, and recruited about 340,000 volunteers to a militia that would have defended the lines of the South Downs if an invading force had broken through the regular army defences. In 1804 Moore was knighted and promoted to Lieutenant-General. In 1806 he returned to active duty in the Mediterranean and then in 1808 in the Baltic to assist the Swedish. Disagreements with Gustavus IV led to him being soon sent home where he was ordered to Portugal.

Spanish War 1808–09

Moore's tomb in San Carlos Garden at A Coruña

Moore took command of the British forces in the Iberian peninsula following the recall of Harry Burrard of Lymington (1 June 1755 – 17 October 1813), Hew Dalrymple (1750–1830), Governor of Gibraltar from November 1806 to August 1808, and Arthur Wellesley (1769–1852), later Duke of Wellington, who all faced an inquiry over the Convention of Sintra on the French troops' evacuation from Portugal. When Napoleon arrived in Spain with 200,000 men, Moore drew the French northwards while retreating to his embarkation ports of A Coruña and Vigo. Moore established a defensive position on hills outside the town, while being guarded by the 15th Hussars, and was fatally wounded at the Battle of Corunna, being "struck in his left breast and shoulder by a cannon shot, which broke his ribs, his arm, lacerated his shoulder and the whole of his left side and lungs". He remained conscious, and composed, throughout the several hours of his dying, amongst his final words being "Remember me to your sister, Stanhope", referring to his friend, the intrepid Near East Asia traveler Lady Hester Stanhope. (Her niece suspects they might have considered marrying.[3]) Like Nelson he was mortally wounded in battle, and also like the admiral lived long enough to be assured that he had gained a victory. He said to his old friend Colonel Anderson "You know I always wished to die this way".[4] His last words were "I hope the people of England will be satisfied! I hope my country will do me justice!"[4] He was buried wrapped in a military cloak in the ramparts of the town; the funeral is celebrated in a well known poem by Charles Wolfe (1791–1823), The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna,[5] which begins:

Not a drum was heard, not 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.

and ends, six verses later, with:

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 we left him alone with his glory.

When the French took the town, a monument was built over his grave by the orders of Marshal Soult. The monument was rebuilt and made more permanent in 1811. In his native Glasgow he is commemorated by a statue in George Square, and in England by a monument in St Paul's Cathedral and an equestrian statue at Shorncliffe. Houses are named for him at The High School of Glasgow and HM Queen Victoria School, Dunblane.


  • J. C. Moore, Life of Sir John Moore (London, 1834), written by another brother of John, James Carrick Moore (1763–1834).
  • W. F. P. Napier, History of the Peninsular War (five volumes, New York, 1856)
  • C. B. Mayne, "Moore", in Spenser Wilkinson, From Cromwell to Wellington (London, 1899)
  • Diary of Sir John Moore, edited by Sir J. F. Maurice (two volumes, London, 1904)


  1. ^ General Sarrazin writes of the battle: "Whatever Buonaparte may assert, Soult was most certainly repulsed at Corunna; and the English gained a defensive victory, though dearly purchased with the loss of their brave general Moore, who was alike distinguished for his private virtues, and his military talents". (Sarrazin, General. History of the War in Spain and Portugal from 1807 to 1814[1]) 'France militaire': "Ayant neanmoins reunit les troupes a la Corogne, il repousse glorieusement les Francais, et meurt sur le champ de bataille." which translates as "Having nevertheless reunited the troops at Corunna, he [Moore] gloriously repulsed the French and died on the field of battle." (France militaire : histoire des armées françaises de terre et de mer de 1792 à 1837. Tome 4 / ouvrage réd. par une Société de militaires et de gens de lettres,... ; rev. et publ. par A. Hugo) [2]
  2. ^ Dictionary of National Biography, p. 368
  3. ^ Duchess of Cleveland: The Life and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope, Murray 1914
  4. ^ a b Napier's History of the Peninsular War Book IV, Chapter V
  5. ^ *Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna, by Rev. Charles Wolfe (1791-1823)[3]
Military offices
Preceded by
Cyrus Trapaud
Colonel of the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot
Succeeded by
Sir Hildebrand Oakes

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