Burial of Sir John Moore, The
DESCRIPTION: "We buried him darkly at dead of night" without a funeral, in a narrow grave, without a coffin. "The foe was sullenly firing." "We carved not a line, we raised not a stone, But left him alone with his glory!"
AUTHOR: Rev. Charles Wolfe (1791-1823) (source: Moylan, Gardner, Turner)
EARLIEST DATE: 1817 (_Newry Telegraph_, according to Moylan)
KEYWORDS: war burial death soldier
Jan 16, 1809 - Moore is killed during the Battle of Corunna and is buried in the ramparts of the town (source: "John Moore (British soldier)" at the Wikipedia site)
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Moylan 183, "The Burial of Sir John Moore" (1 text, 1 tune)
WolfAmericanSongSheets, #227, p. 17, "Burial of Sir John Moore" (2 references)
ADDITIONAL: Edward Hayes, The Ballads of Ireland (Boston, 1859), Vol II, p. 288, "The Burial of Sir John Moore"
Donagh MacDonagh and Lennox Robinson, _The Oxford Book of Irish Verse_ (Oxford, 1958, 1979), pp. 37-38, "The Burial of Sir John Moore" (1 text)
Charles W. Eliot, editor, English Poetry Vol II From Collins to Fitzgerald (New York, 1910), #494, pp. 822-823, "The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna" (by Charles Wolfe)
Martin Gardner, editor, _Famous Poems from Bygone Days_, Dover, 1995, pp. 166-168, "The Burial of Sir John Moore" (1 text)
Michael R. Turner, _Victorian Parlour Poetry: An Annotated Anthology_, 1967, 1969 (page references are to the 1992 Dover edition), pp. 47-48, "The Burial of Sir John Moore" (1 text)
ST Moyl183 (Partial)
NOTES: Moylan: Sir John Moore re-captured Wexford town from the rebels in June 1798. He was killed as Commander in Chief of the British forces fighting the French in Portugal in 1808. - BS
It is interesting to wonder how Moore's reputation would have stood had he lived. Although much praised, he had little experience as a commander-in-chief. Administratively, he was probably better than Wellington, but he had not the latter's incredible sense for the strengths and weaknesses of a position (few did, to be sure), and his one chance in sole command ended in partial failure and his own death.
Of the senior officers in Ireland in 1798, Moore (1761-1809) was surely the best -- firm (he allowed his men, as they sought to disarm the rebels before the rising, to act harshly and commandeer provisions; Pakenham, p. 66) but opposed to straight-out looting (Pakenham, p. 258, tells how he personally imposed order on his men when they threatened to devastate the path along which they marched) and generally humane (Pakenham, p. 281); he was the one leading officer who did not hold any courts-martial or military tribunals (Pakenham, p. 284). Many of the very best generals are of this type.
He also had a key role in the British invasion of Egypt.
Chandler, whose book is magisterial (if not particularly readable), writes of him (p. 627), "During the critical days when Britain was awaiting Napoleon's impending invasion, Moore had trained up a division of light infantry on new principles.... instilling a high degree of personal responsibility in officers and men alike, training the rank and file to think and fight as individuals rather than mere members of a military machine. To technical improvements... Sir John added a great gift for administration."
But the Peninsular campaign was his first independent command, and very nearly his first action was the retreat which ended in his death at Corunna; Chandler (p. 627) admits that "it was to be some little time before he found his feet among the familiar and baffling surroundings of Portugal and Spain."
Corunna was essentially a French attempt to cut off the British retreat. The British inflicted about 1500 casualties on the French, in exchange for about 800 losses of their own -- but in the course of the battle he was hit in the shoulder by a cannonball (Chandler, p. 656), dying (like Wolfe or Nelson) in the knowledge that the battle was won. Won, but the position lost; he was burid on January 17, and his men evacuated Corunna on January 17 and 18.
Napoleon said of him, "His talents and firmness alone saved the British army," but of course by so saying, Napoleon covered over his own flawed Spanish strategy.
According to HouseholdTreasury, p. 198, Moore "was mortally wounded and buried at midnight on the ramparts of Corunna. As no coffin could be procured, the body was simply wrapped in a military cloak and blankets.
Household Treasury also says that "Rev. Charles Wolfe, born at Dublin 1791, died 1823, owes his fame to this one brief but touchingly-beautiful composition, of which any poet might have been proud. Some of Wolfe's other lyrics, however, are characterized by intense pathos and power of expression. He died of consumption, hastened by incessant clerical labour, in his thirty-third year."
According to NewCentury, he died in Cork in 1823. The Handbook lists this poem as his one noteworthy writing. John Russell wrote a memorial in his 1825 posthumous Poetical Remains. - RBW
Last updated in version 3.5
- Chandler: David G. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon, Macmillan, 1966
- HouseholdTreasury: [no author listed], The Household Treasury of English Song, T. Nelson and Sons, 1872
- NewCentury: Clarence L. Barnhart with William D. Haley, editors, The New Century Handbook of English Literature, revised edition, Meredith Publishing, 1967
- Pakenham: Thomas Pakenham The Year of Liberty, 1969, 1997 (I use the 2000 Abacus paperback edition)
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