Evans, George de Lacy (DNB00)

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EVANS, Sir GEORGE DE LACY (1787–1870), general, son of George Evans, a small landed proprietor, was born at Moig in 1787. His mother's maiden name was Delany. He joined the army in India as a volunteer in 1806, and received his first commission as ensign there in the 22nd regiment on 1 Feb. 1807. He first saw service in that year against Amír Khán and the Pindáris. In the following year he served under Major-general the Hon. John Abercromby in the capture of the Mauritius, and gave such satisfaction that he was promoted lieutenant on 1 Dec. 1809. Sir John Malcolm took a fancy to him and asked him to go to Persia with his mission. Evans refused, as he preferred active service, and on 26 March 1812 exchanged into the 3rd dragoons, then employed in the Peninsula. He joined his new regiment before Burgos in 1812, in time to help to cover the disastrous retreat from that city, and accompanied it in the following May in the Duke of Wellington's advance from Frenada. He was wounded at the skirmish on the Hormaza, which preceded the great battle of Vittoria, but was nevertheless present at the battle, and afterwards was employed in a staff capacity by Sir George Murray to sketch the passes of the Pyrenees. He was present either with his regiment or in a staff employment at the siege of Pampeluna, the battle of the Pyrenees, the investment of Bayonne, and the battle of Toulouse, and at each of the two latter en- gagements he had a horse shot under him. At the conclusion of the war in France he was attached to the corps sent under the command of General Ross from Wellington's army to the coast of the United States, as deputy quartermaster-general, and distinguished himself greatly. He had two horses killed under him at the battle of Bladensburg; seized the Congress House at Washington with only two hundred light infantry; was present at the attack on Baltimore, and finally was twice severely wounded in the operations before New Orleans in December 1814 and January 1815. He returned to Europe just in time to join Wellington's army in Belgium, and was at once attached to the staff of Picton's division as deputy quartermaster-general. He was engaged at the battle of Quatre Bras and at Waterloo, where he had two horses killed under him, and he is said to have been the staff officer who gave the word for the union brigade of cavalry to charge. For his Peninsular services he was promoted captain into the 5th West India regiment on 12 Jan. 1815, for those in America major by brevet on 11 May 1815, and for Waterloo lieutenant-colonel by brevet on 18 June 1815, thus getting three steps in rank in six months. He remained on the staff of the army of occupation until its withdrawal in 1818, and then went on half-pay.

After some years' retirement, in March 1830 Evans came forward as an advanced radical reformer and was elected M.P. for Rye after a petition. He lost that seat at the general election later in 1830, and also Westminster, for which he stood in the same interest in 1832, but in May 1833 he triumphantly defeated Sir John Cam Hobhouse, who had accepted the Chiltern Hundreds in order to give his constituents an opportunity of expressing their sentiments on his conduct, and was elected M.P. for Westminster. He was busily engaged in his parliamentary duties, when in May 1835 General Alava, the Spanish ambassador in London, obtained the leave of the king and of Lord Melbourne's ministry to raise a force of ten thousand men in England for the service of the queen regent of Spain, Christina, against Don Carlos. He offered the command of this force, which was known as the British Legion, to Evans, whom he had known in Spain when on the staff of the Duke of Wellington. Though the royal consent was formally given on 10 June 1835, every obstacle was thrown in the way of raising recruits by the military authorities in England, and especially by the Duke of Wellington, who had expressed his open disapproval of the whole scheme. When Evans took command of the legion at San Sebastian in August 1835, he found the result of this disapprobation in the utter unfitness of many of the men for service, and he declared at a later period that 2,300 of the 9,600 men whom he had under his command were so crippled by disease and infirmity that they never appeared in the field. The Spanish government utterly neglected the legion, and Evans rendered great services in Spain at the head of a corps which was at no time adequately equipped with either munitions or the necessaries of life. In November 1835 he raised the siege of Bilbao; in January 1836 he co-operated in Espartero's attack on Arlaban; on 5 May 1836 he raised the siege of San Sebastian, after a fierce battle, in which he lost ninety-seven officers and five hundred men out of his force of five thousand; on 31 May and 6 and 9 June he repulsed the fierce attacks of the Carlists on his position; in September he was driven back from Fuentarabia, and on 1 Oct. he entirely defeated an attack of the Carlists, after a twelve hours' battle, in which he was himself wounded. The campaign of 1837 was no less brilliant. It opened with a severe defeat at Hernani on 16 March 1837; but in the month of May, in conjunction with the army under Espartero, he more than compensated for this reverse, for on the 14th he took Hernani, on the 17th he stormed Irun, and on the 18th captured Fuentarabia. In June 1837 the two years for which the legion had been recruited expired, and the remnant of the gallant army was brought back to England at the expense of the British government. The legion had been systematically starved and neglected by the Spanish government, and yet Evans was able to boast in his place in parliament that ‘no prisoners had been taken from the legion in action, nor any part of its artillery or equipage captured by the Carlists; that the legion, however, had taken twenty-seven pieces of artillery from the enemy and made eleven hundred prisoners, whose lives were spared.’ This last remark refers to the fact that all the forty-seven soldiers of the legion who fell into the hands of the Carlists had been put to death by them in cold blood. Evans's services were recognised by his own country by his being promoted colonel on 10 June 1837, and being made a K.C.B. in the following August. The queen regent of Spain awarded him the grand crosses of the orders of St. Ferdinand and of Charles III.

In 1841 Evans's parliamentary career was temporarily checked by the tory reaction of that year, when he was defeated for Westminster by Admiral Rous, but in 1846 he regained his seat and was promoted major- general on 9 Nov. in that year. He was re-elected in 1852. In 1854 he was promoted lieutenant-general, and was selected for the command of the 2nd division of the army sent to the East. At the battle of the Alma his division was on the right of the English line touching the French, and in leading it gallantly across the river to the relief of the light division, Evans was severely wounded in the shoulder. Nevertheless he remained with his troops, and repulsed the Russian sortie of 26 June from Sebastopol, which was directed against his lines, in such a manner as to win the cordial praise of Lord Raglan. He was then invalided, but left his bed on board ship in Balaclava harbour on hearing the firing on 5 Nov. He assisted his senior brigadier, General Pennefather, with his advice throughout the battle of Inkerman, though he would not take the command out of his hands. He soon after returned to England, and received the thanks of parliament in his seat in the House of Commons. For his services Evans was made a G.C.B. in June 1855, a grand officer of the Legion of Honour, and a knight of the first class of the Medjidie in the following year. He also received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the university of Oxford. He had been made colonel of the 21st regiment, the king's own borderers, on 29 Aug. 1853, and was promoted general on 10 March 1861. He was re-elected for Westminster in 1857 and 1859, but retired from political life at the dissolution of 1865, and died in London on 9 Jan. 1870, aged 82.

[Times, 12 Jan. 1870; Men of the Time; Hart's Army List; Nolan's History of the Crimean War, and the Leaders of the Host, a little book published in 1854 by G. Mackay; for the services of the British Legion in Spain, Duncan's History of the British Legion; and for his services in the Crimea, Kinglake's Invasion of the Crimea, especially the volume on the battle of the Alma.]

H. M. S.