Robert Craufurd

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Major General Robert Craufurd
Major General Craufurd.jpg
Nickname(s) Black Bob
Born 5 May 1764
Newark Castle, [Ayrshire]
Died 23 January 1812 (aged 47)
Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Rank Major General

Major-General Robert Craufurd (5 May 1764 – 23 January 1812) was a Scottish soldier. After a military career which took him from India to the Netherlands, he was given command of the Light Division in the Napoleonic Peninsular War under the Duke of Wellington. Craufurd was a strict disciplinarian and somewhat prone to violent mood swings which earned him the nickname "Black Bob". He was mortally wounded storming the lesser breach in the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo on 19 January 1812 and died four days later.

Craufurd was born at Newark, Ayrshire, the third son of Sir Alexander Crauford, 1st Baronet (see Crauford Baronets),[1] and the younger brother of Sir Charles Craufurd. After a military career which took him from India to the Netherlands, he found himself commanding a brigade during the Peninsular War in 1808. By 1809 he was in charge of the Light Brigade, which was composed of the elite foot soldiers in the army at the time.

Despite his fearsome reputation, Crauford made the Light Brigade into a renowned fighting unit. As a soldier he was as tough as any of the men he commanded, and would never ask them to do anything or take any risk that he was not willing to take himself. Nothing demonstrated this better than the manner of his own death, when he was shot in the spine whilst assaulting the breach at Ciudad Rodrigo. He was not killed outright, but spent 5 days in agony before succumbing to his wounds.

Career[edit]

Craufurd entered the 25th Foot in 1779. As captain in the 75th regiment, he first saw active service against Tippoo Sahib in 1790-92. The next year he was employed on attachment, under his brother Charles, with the Austrian armies operating against the French. Returning to England in 1797, he soon saw further service, as a lieutenant-colonel, on Lake's staff in the Irish rebellion. A year later, he was British commissioner on Suvarov's staff when the Russians invaded Switzerland, and at the end of 1799, was in the Holder expedition. This first hand experience of Continental warfare would prove useful later in his career.

From 1801 to 1805, Lieutenant-Colonel Craufurd sat in parliament for East Retford, but in 1807, he resumed active service with Whitelock in the Buenos Aires expedition, where he was forced to surrender a British brigade. He was almost the only one of the senior officers who added to his reputation in this disastrous affair, and in 1808 he received a brigade command under Sir John Moore. His regiments were heavily engaged in the earlier part of the famous retreat, but were not present at Corunna, having been detached to Vigo, whence they returned to England.

Later, in 1809, once more in the Peninsula, Brigadier-General Craufurd was three marches or more in rear of Wellesley's army when a report came in that a great battle was in progress. The march which followed is one almost unparalleled in military annals. The three battalions of the Light Division (43rd, 52nd and 95th) started in full marching order, and arrived at the front on the day after the Battle of Talavera, having covered 62 m. in twenty-six hours. Beginning their career with this famous march these regiments and their chief, under whom served such men as Charles and William Napier, Shaw and Colborne, soon became celebrated as one of the best corps of troops in Europe, and almost every engagement following added to their laurels.

Craufurd's operations on the Coa and Agueda in 1810 were daring to the point of rashness; the drawing on of the French forces into what became the Battle of Coa in particular was a rare lapse in judgement that almost saw his removal from command. Although Wellington censured him for his conduct, he at the same time increased his force from brigade-strength to division-strength by the addition of two picked regiments of Portuguese Caçadores.[2] The conduct of the renowned Light Division at Busaco is described by Napier in one of his most vivid passages.

The winter of 1810-1811, Craufurd spent in England, and his division was commanded in the interim by another officer. He reappeared on the field of the battle of Fuentes d'Onoro amidst the cheers of his men, and nothing could show his genius for war better than his conduct on this day, in covering the strange readjustment of his line which Wellington was compelled to make in the face of the enemy.

A little later, he obtained major-general's rank; and on 19 January 1812, as he stood on the glacis of Ciudad Rodrigo, directing the stormers of the Light Division, he fell mortally wounded. His body was carried out of action by his staff officer, Lieutenant Shaw of the 43rd, and, after lingering four days, he died.

He was buried in the breach of the fortress where he had met his death, and a monument in St Paul's cathedral commemorates Craufurd and Mackinnon, the two generals killed at the storming of Ciudad Rodrigo. The exploits of Craufurd and the Light Division are amongst the most cherished traditions of the British and Portuguese armies. One of the quickest and most brilliant, if not the very first, of Wellington's generals, he had a fiery temper, which rendered him a difficult man to deal with, but to the day of his death he possessed the confidence and affection of his men in an extraordinary degree.[3][4]

Major-General Crauford was nicknamed 'Black Bob'. The nickname is supposed to refer to his habit of heavily cursing when losing his temper, his nature as a strict disciplinarian and even to his noticeably dark and heavy facial stubble. During the First World War, a Lord Clive class monitor was named for hims, HMS General Crauford

References[edit]

  1. ^ Crauford p 2
  2. ^ Crauford p 100ff
  3. ^ Crauford p 245ff
  4. ^ Hibbert p 88f

Sources[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
William Petrie
Sir Wharton Amcotts
Member of Parliament for East Retford
with John Jaffray

1802–1806
Succeeded by
Charles Craufurd
Thomas Hughan