MARCH OF DEATH: Sir John Moore's Retreat to Corunna, 1808-1809

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MARCH OF DEATH: Sir John Moore's Retreat to Corunna, 1808-1809, Christopher Summerville, 2003, Greenhill Books, London, 240 pages, $34.95.

The British love their epic retreats, and Christopher Summerville's March of Death: Sir John Moore's Retreat to Corunna, 1808-1809 fills that need. Summerville's story is about a small expeditionary force deployed to the continent with scant intelligence and few instructions. Commanded by Sir John Moore, the force suddenly finds itself the sole objective of the French Army and has to retreat 250 miles in the winter to Corunna, Spain, to be evacuated by the Royal Navy. While this might seem like a description of Dunkirk in 1940, it is actually a scene 130 years earlier, when Great Britain was cooperating with Spain to resist Napoleon's invasion.

Summerville gives three reasons for writing his book. The first reason is to introduce modern readers to Moore, a highly regarded lieutenant general who had the potential to be one of Great Britain's great military commanders. (Moore was killed during the climatic battle of the campaign and has been overshadowed by such leaders as the Duke of Wellington.) Summerville's second goal is to present a chronological history of the campaign. His third goal is to familiarize readers with the hardships and horrors of a winter campaign and retreat.

Although Moore's name is in the title, he is a remote actor in much of the book. …