The straggler's battle at Betanzos of 10 January 1809 was an incident late in Sir John Moore’s retreat to Corunna in the winter of 1808-1809. After a long retreat the British had made a stand at Lugo, but the pursuing French army under Marshal Soult had refused the strong British position, and at midnight on 8-9 January the British had slipped away, heading towards the coast at Betanzos.
Discipline soon began to collapse, and large numbers of men fell behind the rearguard. On the morning of 10 January most of the army had reached Betanzos, while the rearguard under General Paget took up a position on some low hills just outside the town. From there they were able to observe the French cavalry under Franceschi as they began to round up large numbers of the stragglers. About 500 British soldiers were captured on 10 January, and a similar number had been lost on the previous day.
The losses were kept down by a spontaneous fight back on the part of some of the stragglers. As the French cavalry approached a large concentration of British troops in the villages at the foot of the hills, the more able bodied soldiers grabbed their muskets, and managed to hold off this first French charge with a rolling fire. At this point William Newman, a sergeant in the 43rd Regiment, took command of this impromptu force. He then divided into two companies, and conducted a skilful fighting retreat down the road into Betanzos, with the two companies covering each others retreats. Despite several French cavalry charges, the party of stragglers was able to reach the British lines in safety, while another 500 men are reported to have taken advantage of the distraction to escape from the French. Newman was rewarded for his achievement with an ensign’s commission in the 1st West India Regiment.