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Villafranca, action of, 3 January 1809.
As Sir John Moore led his ragged and crumbling army back from Astorga toward Corunna its morale began to crack amid the bitter weather and the pressures exerted by the pursuing French, newly placed under the overall command of Marshal Soult now that Napoleon had decided to return to France.
After staggering through the narrow streets of Bembibre, the army headed for Villafranca del Bierzo. The rear guard was at this time personally commanded by Sir John Moore. As the main columns of the 25 000 man main army reached Villafranca, where the wine cellars were looted with disastrous results, Moore and the rear guard were holding the bridge over the river Coa at Cacabellos some three kilometers outside the town. He was soon under attack by French dragoons under General Baron Colbert and a sharp engagement resulted borne in part by the 95th Rifles. Colbert was shot down and killed, whereupon the French pulled back, and at 10.00 P.M the British blew up the bridge and recommenced their retread. Rifleman Thomas Plunket fired the critical bulled at Colbert.
Moore was so horrified by the rampant indiscipline now prevalent in his army that he had paraded a division in the main square of Villafranca the previous day and made a strong speech about marauding, drunkenness, failing behind, and general indiscipline. Then, to make his point absolutely clear, a cavalryman was hung in front of the division for having broken into a rum store.
This salutary lesson had little effect the excessed continued but the retread to ward Corunna went on..


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