Sir John Slade, 1st Baronet

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General Sir John "Black Jack" Slade, 1st Baronet, GCH (31 December 1762 – 13 August 1859) served as a general officer in the British Army during the Peninsular War. He lacked talent as a combat leader. Though Slade was praised in official reports, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington criticized his actions privately and finally replaced him with a more efficient officer. Despite this, he attained high rank after the war. His descendents include two admirals.

Background and early military life[edit]

Slade was the son of John Slade (d. 1801) of Maunsel House, Somerset, a Victualling Commissioner, and his wife, Charlotte née Portal. He obtained a commission as cornet in the 10th Dragoons on 11 May 1780, and became a lieutenant on 28 April 1783, captain on 24 October 1787, major on 1 March 1794, and lieutenant colonel on 29 April 1795. On 18 October 1798, he exchanged to the 1st Dragoons (the Royals). He was appointed equerry to the Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland in 1800, and became a colonel in the army on 29 April 1802. In June 1804, he was made brigadier, and gave up command of the Royals.[1]

He is said to "have danced with Marie Antoinette who gave him a snuff box".[2]

Peninsular War cavalry general[edit]

Slade saw no active service until, in October 1808, he was sent to Corunna in command of a hussar brigade. He led the 10th Hussars in the successful cavalry action at Sahagún on 20 December. The 10th arrived too late to play an active role in the action, primarily because Slade insisted on making a stirring, and apparently long, speech ending in the words: "blood and slaughter, march!"[3] Slade shared in the arduous work of the cavalry during John Moore's retreat, and served as a volunteer at the Battle of Corunna, when the cavalry had embarked.

He was employed on the staff in England for six months, but returned to the Peninsula in August 1809 with a brigade of dragoons, and served there for four years. He participated in the battles of Busaco and Fuentes de Oñoro. He commanded the cavalry division, in Stapleton Cotton's absence, during André Masséna's retreat from Portugal in the spring of 1811. He was said to have missed opportunities, but Wellington mentioned him favourably in his dispatch of 14 March.

On 11 June 1812, when he was under Rowland Hill in Estremadura, Slade was beaten by Charles Lallemand in a cavalry action at Maguilla. Each side deployed 700 dragoons in two regiments.[4] The British had the advantage in the first encounter, and followed headlong in pursuit through a defile, beyond which they found the French reserve drawn up. Their own reserve had joined in the pursuit and lost its formation. The brigade panicked, was pursued by the French for several miles, and lost more than 100 prisoners.[5][6]

Slade rode with the leading squadrons, instead of attending to the supports, and Wellington and others blamed him. Wellington was furious; he wrote:

"I have never been more annoyed than by Slade's affair. Our officers of cavalry have acquired a trick of galloping at every thing. They never consider the situation, never think of manouevring before an enemy, and never keep back or provide for a reserve."[7]

If 'Black Jack' was not held in very high regard by his commander-in-chief, some of his subordinates were equally damning; one officer wrote: "As a leader of cavalry he was deplorable. He was a byword for inefficiency throughout the army."[8] He was "generally regarded as incompetent" Major-General John Slade, was also known as 'God-damn-you-Jack', a commander of breath-taking stupidity.[9]

Later career and honours[edit]

In May 1813, Slade's brigade was transferred to Henry Fane, and he went home, and was employed for a year in Ireland. The official reason for Slade losing his command was that Major General Henry Clinton had been given the local rank of lieutenant general, and John Slade was senior to him.[10] In reality, this seems to have been a useful method by which Wellington divested himself of a general who he had become convinced was less than competent. Slade received an Army Gold Medal and one clasp for Corunna and Fuentes d'Oñoro. He had been promoted to major general on 25 October 1809, became a lieutenant general on 4 June 1814, and a general on 10 January 1837. In 1831, he was given the colonelcy of the 5th Dragoon Guards; on 30 September 1831 he was made a baronet, and in 1835 he was appointed a GCH. He was honoured three times with the thanks of Parliament.[11] He died on 13 August 1859 at his home, Montys Court, and was buried at Norton Fitzwarren, near Taunton, Somerset, 'the oldest living member of the army save one'.[11]

Family[edit]

He married, first on 20 September 1792, Anna Eliza Dawson (d. 24 December 1819), and second on 17 June 1822, Matilda Ellen Dawson (d. 12 September 1868). He had 11 sons and 4 daughters.

He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his third son, Sir Frederic Slade, 2nd Baronet (1801–1863), queen's counsel and bencher of the Middle Temple. His fifth son was Admiral Sir Adolphus Slade (1804–1877).

Other notable descendants include:

In fiction[edit]

He features as a notoriously bad general in Allan Mallinson's earlier novels in the Matthew Hervey series.

References[edit]

  • Cassels, S.A.C. (Ed.), Peninsular Portrait 1811-1814 - The Letters of William Bragge, Third (King's Own) Dragoons. London. (1963).
  • Fletcher, I., Galloping at Everything: The British Cavalry in the Peninsula and at Waterloo 1808-15, Spellmount, Staplehurst (1999). ISBN 1-86227-016-3.
  • Liddel, R.S., The Memoirs of the Tenth Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales' Own), London (1891).
  • Oman, Charles. Wellington's Army, 1809-1814. London: Greenhill, (1913) 1993. ISBN 0-947898-41-7
  • Smith, Digby. The Napoleonic Wars Data Book. London: Greenhill, 1998. ISBN 1-85367-276-9
Attribution

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Liddell, p.177
  2. ^ Maunsel House bio-details
  3. ^ Fletcher, p. 91
  4. ^ Smith, p. 378
  5. ^ Fletcher, pp. 166-178
  6. ^ Oman, p. 105-106
  7. ^ Oman, p. 106
  8. ^ Cassels, p. 140
  9. ^ Wellington's Army in the Peninsula 1809-14 By Stuart Reid p. 78
  10. ^ Liddell, pp.178-79
  11. ^ a b Liddell, p.179
  12. ^ Burke's Peerage 1963 p 2243
Military offices
Preceded by
Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld
Colonel of the 5th Dragoon Guards
1831–1859
Succeeded by
The Earl of Cardigan
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New creation
Baronet
(of Maunsell Grange)
1831–1859
Succeeded by
Sir Frederic Slade, 2nd Baronet