The Historically Important Corunna Bicorn of Lt Gen Sir David Baird

The historically important General Officers bicorn and feather plume worn by Lt. Gen Sir David Baird at the battle of Corunna 1809. The retreat from La Corunna marked a low point in the war against Napoleon. Under the command of Lt.Gen Sir John Moore the British forces attempted to conduct an orderly retreat from the Portuguese Peninsula port of La Corunna. Sir John Moore’s army with Sir David Baird’s corps from La Corunna numbered some 35,000 men. The Emperor Napoleon’s army numbered 153,000. The pursuit of Moore’s army was left to Marshall Soult whose own corps numbered around 35,000 men.
Sir David Baird commanded the First Division which comprised 81st Foot, 26th Foot, 1st Foot , 50th Foot, 42nd Highlanders, 4th Foot, 1st and 3rd battalions of 1st Guards and Beanne’s brigade of artillery representing six field gun pieces.
Command of the British forces in the Peninsula had fallen to Moore as a result of the departure of General’s Burrard, Dalrymple and Wellesley back to England to attend an enquiry in to how Marshall Junot and his army had been able to escape from Portugal after the battle of Vimeiro. Moore proudly commented that no British General had commanded so many soldiers since the time of Marlborough.
Arriving at Salamanca, Moore had learned that Napoleon had defeated the Spanish armies and was already in Burgos, Moore’s intended destination. Despite being heavily out numbered Moore was reluctant to abandon the Spanish and advanced on Soult’s corps in Valladolid. But Moore misjudged the striking distance of the French forces and it soon became apparent that the British army needed to retreat with all speed to La Corunna in the North West Galician corner of Spain for evacuation by sea.
It was already late in the year 1808 and the retreat was one of the great military hardships endured by the British army. Skilful rearguard actions were fought by Crawford’s brigade and Paget’s reserve cavalry brigade at Lugo and Benevente. The army marched into the port of La Corunna on the night of 11th January 1809, many of the troops were in a state of exhaustion and more importantly the fleet was not in harbour. The French although some distance behind were moving quickly towards La Corunna. The transports did not reach Corunna from Vigo until 15th January 1809.
Moore formed his army south of Corunna between the village of Elvina and the sea. Soult’s corps carried out a frontal attack on the British line with the emphasise on the British right flank at Elvina. The French took Elvina but were subsequently driven out by Baird’s 42nd Highlanders and the 50th Foot. The French counter attacked and recaptured the village. Short of ammunition the two regiments again retook the village driving out the French at the point of a bayonet.
At the moment of victory Sir John Moore was struck by a round shot and fatally injured. Lying stricken Moore enquired as to the state of the battle and was reassured that the French had been beaten back. Baird at once assumed command of the British forces and had no sooner taken command when he was himself severely wounded by a round shot necessitating the removal of his arm at the left shoulder socket. Legend has it that Baird insisted on walking away from the field of battle unaided so as not to alarm his soldiers.
The next day the army was disembarked on the transports for England and although technically a defeat the actions of those few days saved the bulk of the British army.
Charles Wolfe penned the famous poem “The burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna”.
The beaver skin felt bicorn is in very good condition and retains the large gold embroidered General Officers star to the right hand side terminating in a general officers button made by Charles Jennens. Both original fore and aft tassels are missing but period replacements have been inserted to complete the bicorn. The leather sweat band with silk edging is present and has a maker’s label of JUPP. HATTER to the ROYAL FAMILY No. (?) Old Bond St., LONDON. A white over red feather plume on whalebone slides into a small leather strip just above the top of the embroidered star. Stylistically the bicorn is the correct pattern for the period being able to be flattened without damage as opposed to later period General Officers bicorn’s that were rigid shapes set with starch.
Joseph Jupp is listed in the 1802 London trade Directory as “Hatter to the Royal Family” at 7, Old Bond St. The following year he was shown as “Hatter to Her Majesties” at the same address. In 1805 he moved to 5, Old Bond St, and in 1808 was described as “Hatter to Their Majesties”. At some time between 1822 and 1830 he moved again to 22 Regent Street.
Provenance:
The bicorn and numerous other personal effects of Sir David Baird were loaned to the National War Museum of Scotland and showcased at Edinburgh Castle for almost one hundred years where the bicorn was always recorded as having been worn by Baird at Corunna.
In 2003 the direct descendants of General Sir David Baird,BBT., GCB. (1757-1829) instructed that all his artefacts should be sold by public auction and hence the bicorn was purchased by a private collector and then acquired by the present owner.
The portrait, also in my private collection, is a previously unrecorded portrait of Sir David Baird circa 1804 as a Major General and thought to be by Sir Henry Raeburn. Baird was promoted to Lt General in 1805 and as such this portrait cannot be any later than the date attributed.
For more reading go to http://www.britishbattles.com/peninsula/peninsula-coruna.htm

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