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, United Kingdom
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.

Early life[edit]

Like Sir John Moore, the Craufurd family originated from Ayrshire. Alexander Craufurd lived at Newark Castle, and Thirdpart, Ayrshire. They were the cadet line of the Craufurds of Auchenames represented the old line of the Craufurds of Loudoun. The castle was sold by Alexander's grandfather, who was a friend of the Duke of Buccleuch, and then went to live in England in Essex. He was created a baronet in 1781. His eldest son became Sir James, the second baronet. Robert's sibling and second brother, Charles was also a British Army soldier.


Military prodigy[edit]

Craufurd entered the army aged fifteen. He enlisted as a Cornet with 25th Foot in 1779,[2] serving four years as a subaltern. By aged nineteen he was already a company commander. His brother Charles was also on the army, and the two brother attended King Frederick the Great's Review of the troops at Potsdam by personal invitation. He learnt much about military tactics and military history.[citation needed]

As captain in the 75th regiment from 1787, he first saw active service against Tippoo Sahib in 1790-92, while serving under Lord Cornwallis. His distinguished service was praised earning seniority in Capataincies among the purchased commissions. Robert returned to England on leave to help his brother, Colonel Charles. Robert superintended the mission when he was promoted from major to Lieutenant-colonel in December 1797. The next year he was employed on detachment, under his brother Charles, with the Austrian armies operating against the French. Craufurd was sent as Deputy Assistant Adjutant General on General Lake's staff to quash the Irish rebellion against General Humbert.[2]

His abilities were recognised by General Cornwallis and Lake who reported well of the performance to the War Office. A year later, he was British commissioner on Suvarov's staff when the Russians invaded Switzerland. At the end of 1799, Craufurd was in the Holder expedition led by the Duke of York of Horse guards, on the staff.

Family life[edit]

Robert had married on 7 February 1800 at St Saviour's Church, Mary Frances, daughter of Henry Holland, Esquire of Hans Place, Chelsea. He was very fond of his wife, and to the exasperation of his General officer commanding regularly requested 'furlough' home to see his young love. At the time he often talked to family of retiring from the army altogether. It was also at this time that he developed a correspondence with the Secretary at War, William Windham. They became firm friends. From 1801 to 1805, Craufurd (by then a lieutenant-colonel) sat in parliament for East Retford, but in 1807 he resigned to concentrate on soldiering.

The Buenos Ayres Expedition[edit]

On 30 October 1805, Craufurd was promoted to full colonel and put in command of his own regiment. He was ordered on an expedition across the Atlantic to Latin America. In 1806 on the promise of another promotion to Brigadier-general he took ship to Rio de Janeiro. The British commander-in-chief General Whitelocke was based at Montevideo. Craufurd's brigade was two squadrons of 6th Dragoon Guards, the 5th Dragoon Guards, 36th Regiment, 45th Regiment, and 88th Regiments of Foot, and five companies of 95th Rifles, totaling 4,200 men. The broad objective was the conquest of Chile. Craufurd departed from Falmouth docks on 12 November 1806. Sailing south to the Cape of Good Hope with Instructions from Mr Windham. General Samuel Auchmuty and Admiral Murray were despatched to report back to the Pittite ministry, who wanted the capture of Buenos Ayres. They had already left London on 9 October.

The flotilla arrived with 8,000 men on board on June 15, 1807, when the armies were finally united at Buenos Ayres. Whitelocke refused to act, and was accused by Robert Craufurd of cowardice. He was supported in London by his brother Charles, who had a network of aristocratic contacts. Whitelocke would not countenance an attack on French General Liniers army. They enemy advanced into the town; Craufurd wrote he wanted to attack the ramparts, but was prevented by the superior officer. The French retreated, retrenched the streets and deployed heavy cannon. Craufurd's brigade was forced to retreat to the Convent of Saint Domingo, they could hear the guns fall silent; his brigade was surrounded by 5,000 of the enemy and forced to surrender at 4 pm.[3][4] 1,070 officers and men were killed or severely wounded; Craufurd and Coadjutor Edmund Pack of Royal Horse Guards were incensed. They offered to shoot the 'traitor' when they returned to Hythe:[5] Whitelocke compounded the treason when Liniers offered to return prisoners and 71st regiment; he agreed and surrendered Montevideo, also promising to withdraw from the River Plate.

Writing in 1891 the biographer Alexander Craufurd states that General Craufurd, and apparently many other officers were "under the impression that Whitelocke was a traitor as well as a time and vacillating fool, but I have failed to find in the account of the court-martial any solid evidence in support of this impression".[6]

Peninsular campaigns[edit]

Light brigade's mission[edit]

Victorian historians[who?] believed Craufurd was scared of Windham and Sir John Moore, his superior on the expedition to northern Spain. General Moore listened and took note Craufurd's concerns by correspondence and promised to provide for the men. the War Office intended to institute reforms: extending service by six months abroad, increasing pay levels to all ranks under strict military discipline, rewarding re-enlistment, banning soldiers from going to the American colonies, extending service for NCO's beyond 21 years, increasing bounty payments, discharging the wounded to Chelsea and Shorncliffe Hospitals with extra pension payments, all on daily basis. Forming an elitist privileged corps to prevent the old, too young and unfit from joining. Veteran battalions sent to garrison duty would also get better conditions.[citation needed]

Charles Napier, later the great general of Imperial India, criticised Craufurd during the Peninsular campaign in his own book. In October 1808, Craufurd sailed with Sir David Baird with Instructions to command the Light Division under Sir John Moore. Moore was at the Salamaca HQ when he heard on 3rd from Craufurd, and replied that Craufurd was to command the rearguard action. Moore decided the Expeditionary force must retreat hundreds of miles in blistering heat carrying heavy packs with little food. They caught up with the army at Mayorga on December 20, 1808. Intelligence knew the French were close behind. In freezing winter snow and fog they marched at double-quick pace fighting off much larger forces. Moore was fearful that their retreat was cut off to the sea. 250 miles more to port evacuation. The Commissariat was delayed. There was no food. On Christmas Day the brigade reached Castro Gonzalo bridge. In the early hours of Boxing day they were attacked by skirmishers of the Imperial Horse, who looted the baggage trains. Craufurd volunteered to remain behind with the infantry and two guns to protect the crossing. Marshall Soult's cavalry were in pursuit of Moore main force. But the skirmishers were Light Cavalry only: Private John Walton and Private Richard Jackson distinguished themselves.

Cavalry tactics[edit]

His regiments were heavily engaged in the earlier part of the retreat, but were not present at Corunna, having been detached to Vigo, whence they returned to England.[2] 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 miles 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.[7]

The march of the Light Divisional Brigade[edit]

The next day, 27 December, Craufurd ordered the bridges destroyed. The Plain across the river began to fill with thousands of enemy cavalry massing for a charge. The weather was raining and snowing At 10 pm in appalling conditions, a large attack was launched at the picquets. Finally by Midnight the stone buttresses began to give way, planks were used to take the last English to safety. The column marched to Benavente to join the cavalry. On December 31, Moore ordered the army to divide. 95th Rifles included Quartermaster John Surtees, who wrote an authoritative account.

Brigadier Charles Alten was ordered to Orense and Vigo while the main column continued on the Corunna Road.[8] He aimed to cross the River Minho whilst Moore was harassed. The independent command of the Light Brigade fell to Craufurd: 2nd battalion, 95th Rifles, battalion, 43rd and 52nd Regiments of Foot. Craufurd was responsible for the Standing Orders for the Light Division. On 1 January 1809, New Years Day, they climbed the steep mountain passes. Men died in the snow of hunger, some were captured, others found food from the natives[9] A week later at Ourense they were starving, marching in rags; the French were expected to cut them off from Vigo. They reached port on 9th but awaited stragglers. An important Memoir was that from Rifleman Harris, whose eloquence was descriptive. He expressed the men's pride in the courage, despite severe discipline of the officers. Harris was ordered by the brigadier to sew skins to protect the provision barrels.[10]

Craufurd had "a severe look and a scowling eye", wrote Harris.[11] William Napier thought the brigadier "very attentive to the men".[12] But "willfulness and folly" was treated very severely by lashings.[13]

The people were reckless and starving falling down about breaking rocks. The hills were slippery from the snowfalls. Men's wives were struggling with children in tow — the enemy not far behind. "barefooted, with knapsacks and accoutrements altogether in a dilapidated state".[14] "Sinking with fatigue, reeled as if in a state of drunkenness".[14] But General Craufurd was "terribly severe" on those "caught anything like pilfering".[15] Many died weighed down by knapsacks. Others died from dysentery or food poisoning. On one occasion he saw looters stealing from a turnip field; but knowing their condition he looked the other way. Their feet were bleeding in agony. Men wept in pain.[16]

Daniel Howans was a private soldier chosen for court-martial. First as a straggler, and then for insubordination — he was a friend of Daniel Harris. He received 300 lashes "without a murmur".[17] They marched on until ordered to halt and form a square the next day. Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton-Wade wanted clemency for the perpetrators, but Craufurd agreed that only one man need be lashed and they were to draw lots. They drew lots — Armstrong escaped; the other was destined to receive 100 lashes, but only 75 were administered.[18] Craufurd admonished officers piggy-backing across the river Douro. All soldiers must wade through under their own power. "An Iron man; nothing daunted him; nothing turned him from his purpose".[19] "Damn him", said Craufurd of the Commissary, "I will hang him, if the provisions are not up this night".[20] — at a place called Alfayates.[21]

On 25 May 1809, Craufurd embarked at Dover for Portugal with his brigade consisting of the 43rd foot, 52nd foot and the 95th Rifles. Delayed at The Downs and Isle of Wight by bad weather. The passes were needed three weeks later on 18 June. Had they been on time Craufurd's force might have joined Wellington at Talavera. At Lisbon the brigade purchased packhorses on 28 June. Colonel Frederick Bathurst wrote from Castle Branco on 1 July 1809, that Joseph Bonaparte, Victor Bonaparte, and Sebastiani were converging on Talavera with an estimated 50,000 troops. He received correspondence from General Charles Stewart and Secretary at War William Windham dated 18 July 1809 from Beaconsfield. The Chief informed Craufurd that Austrians were being helped; an expedition was being sent to the Scheldt; and Belle Isle should be taken; he also elaborated. His son was an ensign, who wanted to fight in 52nd Regiment.[22]

"I am greatly inclined to the beleif that your commander, with whom I hope you now are, will exhibit specimens of a very excellent praxis. I have a great idea that Sir Arthur possesses what may fairly be called a military genius".[23] Craufurd marched to Vallada 40 miles north of Lisbon. They were observed by Colonel Leach. They were just under 1,100 men in three regiments of the Light Brigade. From Vallada they went to Santarem, and then on to Abrantes[24] By 20 July thay had reached Zarza Mayor, and on 22 July at Coria. On 28th they heard the boom of enemy cannonade in the near distance. They continued the following day and reached Wellington's encampment at Malpartida de Placencia. Spanish fugitives spread rumours that Sir Arthur Wellesley was dead; but the man himself suspected it was started by French spies. Craufurd too at least 50 stragglers out of the line, as complaints had reached the commander-in-chief of his cruel punishments. They crossed 62 miles in the heat and full regimental kit[25] Captain Ross commanded a Troop of Horse artillery ordered in support of the light brigade's rifles. Leach examined the weight and extent of the kit, weighing down including 60-80 rounds of ammunition for each soldier to carry. The soldiers suffered from a terrible thirst. They march in full kit a total of 50 miles in 24 hours.[26] When they finally arrived at Talavera they witnessed the battlefield of dead corpses, wounded and dying men left in their own filth crying out amidst burning fires.[27]

William Napier assessed Craufurd's ability on posting sentry guards as one of his key strengths. The army moved to Deytoza. Craufurd peeled off with a brigade and six guns to Almaraz. By September 1809 Craufurd's unit was at Campo Mayor before marching to Badajoz.[28] Wellington informed him that Marshall Soult's secret letetrs to the King of Spain had been intercepted that the General intended to attack Ciudad Rodrigo. Wellington wanted to "put you in first before the army could be collected".[29] Craufurd as a spearhead assault column. Wellington went on to say there was plenty of money for Commissary purchases, including new camp-kettles and provisions to his hungry force.[30] In October Wellington left the army to build the lines at Torres Vedras. In mid-November he returned to Badajoz. On December 12, Craufurd marched to Aronches in northern Portugal. They wintered there in worsening conditions when Craufurd on 3 January 1811 received a letter from Wellington at Coimbra that he was to proceed to the stores at Almeida undetected by the enemy, if need be, and the map the river courses. Wellington announced he was moving headquarters to Vizeu. The following day his column arrived at Pinhel. The 43rd and 52nd, while the 95th and 1st German Hussars were ordered by Craufurd to push onto the Rivers Coa and Agueda; they crossed the Coa on 6 January in good heart. Wellington pledged to him that the brigade would be able to retire to Celorico along Mondego Valley with Major-General Sherbrooke's division and the German Hussars. On February 4 Craufurd was advised to use General Cole's division to hold the Coa River to prevent the imminent invasion of Portugal. Marshall Ney was manouevring troops to be ready to march on Badajoz from the south. Wellington deprived him of Colonel Mackinnon's brigade to supplement General Picton's arrival from England. Craufurd's so called division was hardly a brigade by late February. On 22nd two battalions of Portuguese Chasseurs were added, but Craufurd questioned their usefulness: these were 1st and 2nd or possibly 3rd battalions. Craufurd maintained a rank of brigadier, but Colonel Leach dubbed Picton's men "Colonel Donkin's brigade".[31] The Portuguese Cacadores were not rated by the English but these rough horsemen were to join with the German Hussars and "assemble the army upon the Coa, if it should be necessary".[32] Wellington explained that if communications were at Estremadura they would be too far forward to contact General Hill's Household Cavalry. Deployment on the Coa was to prevent a design on Ciudad Rodrigo. The left wing of the front should be at Castello Roderigo, while the right at Alafyates, Wellington told him, "You must be a better judge of the details of this question than I can be".[33] If necessary Picton and Cole's divisions would support according to Wellington's orders. Craufurd was the most junior general officer but had a crucial role to bait the French into launching an assault.[34] 2,500 men were expected to hold the line from Coa to Agueda with 1 regiment of German Hussars of 400 troopers, and 6 light guns. The Infantry was increased by 1,000 to 3,500. And later on they would be assisted by the 16th and 14th Light Dragoons. On their right at Castello they would be joined by 3,000 Spaniards.[35]

Meanwhile, Marshall Massena's French army had 60,000 men two whole Corps and 6,000 Cavalry. Craufurd withdrew the brigade to safety at Almeida, a more defensible fortified town. Craufurd spoke fluent German to the Hussars, and had already sent cavalry outposts.[36] Craufurd knew them very well believed them to be the best in the army. Colonel Kincaid of 95th said they were "thoroughbred soldiers, intelligent and useful on outpost, effective and daring in the field".[36] He likened their commanding officer to Thomas Beckwith (then commander of the 1st Brigade of the Light Division).[36]

Craufurd thought highly of Colonel Reginald Talbot, a Life Guard, who commanded the 14th Light Dragoons, who was killed. The locals hated the French invaders, would do anything to help. Don Julian Sanchez had spies in the French Cantonments. Four companies of Rifles at Barba del Puerco. The Hussars were given the task of giving Beckwith ample warning to retreat.[37] By mid-March Craufurd had completed lining the Agueda with Hussars from Escalhon to Navas Frias a distance of 25 miles (40 km). Artillery had entered Fort Conception as fortification. From Navas Rias to the Douro heavy rains had made the rivers unfordable, with only six bridges along the river. The Hussars were grouped around Almeida to maximise enemy sightings. Ciudad Rodrigo had a bridge but the flooded river helped Craufurd to defend it. 600 French Grenadiers crept up at night on the bridge at Barba del Puerco causing alarum in the town amngst British companies. They were rallied by Colonel Sydney Beckwith. The Guards officer was tall, courageous, and the enemy were pushed back. Straitened for money, unable to fend the division, Craufurd ordered the sale of church plate to raise cash, although he was later forced to redress.[38]

Coa and Agueda[edit]

In "Random Shots of a Rifleman" Kincaid estimated the strength of infantry at 4,000 and cavalry as 1,200 with one brigade of Horse Artillery in Craufurd's divisions, although Alexander Craufurd later thought this an exaggeration.[39] The whole French army was only two hours march away. On March 23 Wellington advised that he wanted to send more money. He had three days previously indicated that the Carcaores were good, but Elder's Portuguese Corps were unavailable. Wellington suggested encouraging desertion in the French cavalry.[40]

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 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. The conduct of the renowned Light Division at Bussaco is described by Napier in one of his most vivid passages.[41]

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 Fuentes d'Onoro to the cheers of his men.[41]

Death at Ciudad Rodrigo[edit]

Craufurd at Ciudad Rodrigo (from a British book)

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.[41]

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.[41]

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 Craufurd.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 2.
  2. ^ a b c Bourne 1911, p. 382.
  3. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 21 cites Cole, "Distinguished Peninsular Generals"
  4. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 21.
  5. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 23 cites Harris "Recollections"
  6. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 23.
  7. ^ Bourne 1911, pp. 382–383.
  8. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 41.
  9. ^ Craufurd 1891, pp. 41–42.
  10. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 44.
  11. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 45 cites Harris "Recollections"
  12. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 48 quoting a by letter William Napier dated 11 November 1808
  13. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 48.
  14. ^ a b Craufurd 1891, p. 50 cites Harris, "Recollections"
  15. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 51 cites Harris, "Recollections"
  16. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 52.
  17. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 56.
  18. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 59.
  19. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 60 cites Harris, "Recollections"
  20. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 61 cites Harris, "Recollections"
  21. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 62 cites the testimony of General Whichcote, who joined 95th in 1811
  22. ^ Craufurd 1891, pp. 62–68.
  23. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 72 quoting William Windham
  24. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 74.
  25. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 52 cites Costello, "Adventures"
  26. ^ Craufurd 1891, pp. 76–77.
  27. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 78.
  28. ^ Craufurd 1891, pp. 78–79.
  29. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 80.
  30. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 81.
  31. ^ Craufurd 1891, pp. 81–85.
  32. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 87.
  33. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 88.
  34. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 89.
  35. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 90.
  36. ^ a b c Craufurd 1891, p. 91.
  37. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 97.
  38. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 99 cites Napier's "War in the Peninsula".
  39. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 100.
  40. ^ Craufurd 1891, p. 100–102.
  41. ^ a b c d Bourne 1911, p. 383.



Further reading[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

  • Bruce, N A. Life of Sir William Napier. 
  • "Quartermaster John Surtees"
  • Alison, Walter. History of Europe. 
  • Kincaid, Colonel. Random Shots of a Rifleman. 
  • Craufurd, Alexander (1906). General Craufurd and His Light Division. 

Secondary sources[edit]

  • Hibbert, Christopher (editor) (1996). The Recollections of Rifleman Harris. The Windrush Press. ISBN 0 900075 64 3. 

External links[edit]

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

Succeeded by
Charles Craufurd
Thomas Hughan