1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Buller, Sir Redvers Henry
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Buller, Sir Redvers Henry
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BULLER, SIR REDVERS HENRY (1839-1908), British general, son of James Wentworth Buller, M.P., of Crediton, Devonshire, and the descendant of an old Cornish family, long established in Devonshire, tracing its ancestry in the female line to Edward I., was born in 1839, and educated at Eton. He entered the army in 1858, and served with the 60th (King's Royal Rifles) in the China campaign of 1860. In 1870 he became captain, and went on the Red River expedition, where he was first associated with Colonel (afterwards Lord) Wolseley. In 1873-74 he accompanied the latter in the Ashantee campaign as head of the Intelligence Department, and was slightly wounded at the battle of Ordabai; he was mentioned in despatches, made a C.B., and raised to the rank of major. In 1874 he inherited the family estates. In the Kaffir War of 1878-79 and the Zulu War of 1879 he was conspicuous as an intrepid and popular leader, and acquired a reputation for courage and dogged determination. In particular his conduct of the retreat at Inhlobane (March 28, 1879) drew attention to these qualities, and on that occasion he earned the V.C.; he was also created C.M.G. and made lieutenant-colonel and A.D.C. to the queen. In the Boer War of 1881 he was Sir Evelyn Wood's chief of staff; and thus added to his experience of South African conditions of warfare. In 1882 he was head of the field intelligence department in the Egyptian campaign, and was knighted for his services. Two years later he commanded an infantry brigade in the Sudan under Sir Gerald Graham, and was at the battles of El Teb and Tamai, being promoted major-general for distinguished service. In the Sudan campaign of 1884-85 he was Lord Wolseley's chief of staff, and he was given command of the desert column when Sir Herbert Stewart was wounded. He distinguished himself by his conduct of the retreat from Gubat to Gakdul, and by his victory at Abu Klea (February 16-17), and he was created K.C.B. In 1886 he was sent to Ireland to inquire into the "moonlighting" outrages, and for a short time he acted as under-secretary for Ireland; but in 1887 he was appointed quartermaster-general at the war office. From 1890 to 1897 he held the office of adjutant-general, attaining the rank of lieutenant-general in 1891. At the war office his energy and ability inspired the belief that he was fitted for the highest command, and in 1895, when the duke of Cambridge was about to retire, it was well known that Lord Rosebery's cabinet intended to appoint Sir Redvers as chief of the staff under a scheme of reorganization recommended by Lord Hartington's commission. On the eve of this change, however, the government was defeated, and its successors appointed Lord Wolseley to the command under the old title of commander-in-chief. In 1896 he was made a full general.
In 1898 he took command of the troops at Aldershot, and when the Boer War broke out in 1899 he was selected to command the South African Field Force (see TRANSVAAL), and landed at Cape Town on the 31st of October. Owing to the Boer investment of Ladysmith and the consequent gravity of the military situation in Natal, he unexpectedly hurried thither in order to supervise personally the operations, but on the 15th of December his first attempt to cross the Tugela at Colenso (see LADYSMITH) was repulsed. The government, alarmed at the situation and the pessimistic tone of Buller's messages, sent out Lord Roberts to supersede him in the chief command, Sir Redvers being left in subordinate command of the Natal force. His second attempt to relieve Ladysmith (January 10-27) proved another failure, the result of the operations at Spion Kop (January 24) causing consternation in England. A third attempt (Vaalkrantz, February 5-7) was unsuccessful, but the Natal army finally accomplished its task in the series of actions which culminated in the victory of Pieter's Hill and the relief of Ladysmith on the 27th of February. Sir Redvers Buller remained in command of the Natal army till October 1900, when he returned to England (being created G.C.M.G.), having in the meanwhile slowly done a great deal of hard work in driving the Boers from the Biggarsberg (May 15), forcing Lang's Nek (June 12), and occupying Lydenburg (September 6). But though these latter operations had done much to re-establish his reputation for dogged determination, and he had never lost the confidence of his own men, his capacity for an important command in delicate and difficult operations was now seriously questioned. The continuance, therefore, in 1901 of his appointment to the important Aldershot command met with a vigorous press criticism, in which the detailed objections taken to his conduct of the operations before Ladysmith (and particularly to a message to Sir George White in which he seriously contemplated and provided for the contingency of surrender) were given new prominence. On the 10th of October 1901, at a luncheon in London, Sir Redvers Buller made a speech in answer to these criticisms in terms which were held to be a breach of discipline, and he was placed on half-pay a few days later. For the remaining years of his life he played an active part as a country gentleman, accepting in dignified silence the prolonged attacks on his failures in South Africa; among the public generally, and particularly in his own county, he never lost his popularity. He died on the 2nd of June 1908. He had married in 1882 Lady Audrey, daughter of the 4th Marquess Townshend, who survived him with one daughter.
A Memoir, by Lewis Butler, was published in 1909.