Frederic Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford
|General The Right Honourable
The Lord Chelmsford
Thesiger in about 1870
|Born||31 May 1827|
|Died||9 April 1905 (aged 77)
Westminster, London, England
|Years of service||1844-1905|
|Commands held||Lieutenant of the Tower of London
Colonel of Sherwood Foresters
Colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Life Guards
Indian Rebellion of 1857
1868 Expedition to Abyssinia
|Awards||Crimea Medal, Order of the Medjidie, Indian Mutiny Medal, GCB, GCVO|
General Frederic Augustus Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford Order of the Bath (GCB), Royal Victorian Order (GCVO), (31 May 1827 – 9 April 1905) was a British general, best known for his commanding role during the Anglo-Zulu war. The centre column of his forces was defeated at the Battle of Isandlwana, an unanticipated victory for the Zulu and the British army's worst ever defeat from a technologically inferior indigenous force. He would avenge his defeat at the Battle of Ulundi which ended the Zulu campaign. He was awarded the GCB in August 1879.
He wished to pursue a military career, and after unsuccessfully trying to obtain a place in the Grenadier Guards, he purchased (1844) a commission in the Rifle Brigade. He served (1845) with the Rifles in Halifax, Nova Scotia before purchasing an exchange (November 1845) into the Grenadiers as Ensign and Lieutenant. He was promoted Lieutenant and Captain in 1850, and became aide-de-camp (1852) to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Eglinton, and then to the Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, Sir Edward Blakeney, from 1853 to 1854.
In May 1855, he left for the Crimean War, in which he served firstly with his battalion, then as aide-de-camp (from July 1855) to the commander of the 2nd Division, Lieutenant-General Edwin Markham, and finally as deputy assistant quartermaster general (from November 1855) on the staff at Headquarters, being promoted brevet Major. He was mentioned in despatches and received the fifth class of the Turkish Order of the Medjidie and the British, Turkish and Sardinian Crimean medals.
Indian Rebellion of 1857
In 1857, he was promoted Captain and Lieutenant-Colonel, and transferred (1858), as a Lieutenant-Colonel, to the 95th (Derbyshire) Regiment of Foot, serving with that regiment at the end of the Indian Mutiny, for which he was again mentioned in dispatches. He served as deputy adjutant general (from 1861 to 1862) to the forces in Bombay, and was promoted brevet Colonel in 1863. There, he befriended the then governor of Bombay, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, and this relationship would be important later when serving in South Africa. He served, again as deputy adjutant general, in the 1868 Expedition to Abyssinia, for which he was awarded the Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) and made an aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria in 1868. He was adjutant general in the East Indies from 1869 to 1874.
He returned to England in 1874 as colonel on the staff, commanding the forces at Shorncliffe Army Camp, and was appointed to command a brigade at Aldershot, with the temporary rank of Brigadier-General, in 1877. He had however requested a posting overseas in order to benefit from the cheaper cost of living.
He was promoted to Major-General (March 1877), appointed to command the forces in South Africa with the local rank of Lieutenant-General (February 1878), and in October succeeded his father as 2nd Baron Chelmsford. He brought the Ninth Cape Frontier War to its completion in July 1878, and was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) (November 1878). His experiences fighting against the Xhosa confirmed his low opinion of the fighting capabilities of black Africans, a mistake that would come back to haunt him.
His friend, Sir Bartle Frere, engineered a war (January 1879) against a previous British ally, King Cetshwayo. Chelmsford's forces approached the Zulu at Isandlwana in a three columns formation. The Zulu overran the centre column, reduced the effectiveness of the British by this division which allowed the Zulu to concentrate their military action on the poorly defended army camp. The engagement was an unexpected victory for the Zulu; the worst defeat of the British army with a technologically inferior indigenous force and the first incursion into Zululand.
The defeat concerned the British that an incursion by the Natal could result, so, Chelmsford was relieved of his command and replaced by Sir Garnet Wolseley. The order could not be implemented until the arrival of Wolseley. Chelmsford ignored the peace offers from Cetshwayo and wanted to strike the Zulu at Ulundi to regain his reputation and end the campaign before Wolseley could remove him from command of the army. Chelmsford left for England in July 1879 and Wolseley disclosed in his despatches that Thesiger should receive all the credit for the Ulundi success; he was awarded the GCB in August.
Lord Chelmsford became Lieutenant-General in 1882, Lieutenant of the Tower of London (1884 until 1889), colonel of the 4th (West London) Rifle Volunteer Corps (1887), full General (1888), and colonel of the Derbyshire Regiment (1889). He exchanged the colonelcy of the Derbyshires for that of the 2nd Life Guards (1900), and was made GCVO (1902). He was the inaugural Governor and Commandant of the Church Lads' Brigade, a post he held until his death.
His sister, Julia (1833–1904) was married to Sir John Eardley Wilmot Inglis (1814–1862)  who commanded the British forces during the Siege of Lucknow in 1857. She later wrote of her experiences during the siege including extracts from her diary.
Death and legacy
He left four sons, the eldest of whom succeeded as 3rd Baron Chelmsford and later became Viceroy of India and first Viscount Chelmsford. Another son was Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Thesiger who served in the First World War and was also a Page of Honour for Queen Victoria. The diplomat Wilfred Gilbert Thesiger, who served in Addis Ababa in 1916, was another son, and father of the author and explorer Wilfred Thesiger.
- Doyle, Peter; Bennett, Matthew R. Fields of Battle, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002, ISBN 1-4020-0433-8, essay by Tony Pollard The Mountain is their Monument, pp. 118 ff
- Colenso, Frances Ellen (1880). History of the Zulu War and Its Origin. London: Chapman & Hall.
- Greaves, Adrian (2011). Isandlwana: How the Zulus humbled the British Empire. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military Ltd. ISBN 978-1-84884-532-9.
- Knight, Ian (2003). Zulu War 1879. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84176-612-7.
- Thompson, Paul Singer (2006). Black soldiers of the queen: the Natal native contingent in the Anglo-Zulu War. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0-8173-5368-2.
- "Thesiger, Frederic Augustus". Oxford DNB. Retrieved 17 May 2011. (subscription required (. ))
- Greaves 2011, p.161-163
- Thompson (2006), p.75, "Thus ended the first British invasion of Zululand."
- Knight (2003), p. 27 Map titled: "First invasion of Zululand".
- Doyle (2002), p. 118.
- Colenso (1880), p. 455
- Colenso (1880), p. 456
- Colenso (1880), p. 461, "... everyone understood that he would try and end the war before he was superseded ... that 'poor Lord Chelmsford' might get a chance, win a battle ...".
- "Hon. Julia Selina Thesiger". thepeerage.com. 13 February 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
- Inglis, Julia Selina (1892). "The Siege of Lucknow: a Diary". A Celebration of Woman Writers. James R. Osgood, McIlvaine & Co.,. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
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