Moncrieff, James (DNB00)

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MONCRIEFF, JAMES (1744–1793), colonel, military engineer, son of James Moncrieff, esq., of Sauchop in Fifeshire, was born in 1744. He entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich on 11 March 1759, and was appointed practitioner engineer and ensign on 28 Jan. 1762. He joined the expedition under the Earl of Albemarle to capture the Havannah, and disembarked on 7 June 1762. He was appointed ensign in the 100th foot on 10 July. The siege was a long and a difficult one, and the brunt fell upon the engineers. The Moro Castle was captured on 30 July after a struggle of forty-four days, but it was not until 14 Aug. that the Havannah fell into the hands of the British. Moncrieff was severely wounded. He continued to serve in the West Indies, East Florida, and other parts of North America for many years. On the disbandment of his regiment on 18 Nov. 1763 he resigned the ensigncy, and was promoted sub-engineer and lieutenant on 4 Dec. 1770, and engineer extraordinary and captain-lieutenant on 10 June 1776. On 11 Sept. 1776 he was present at the battle of Brandywine and guided the 4th regiment across a ford of the river. In 1777 he constructed a bridge over the river Rariton, near New York, for the passage of the troops: a model of this bridge is in the Royal Military Repository at Woolwich. During 1777 and the following year Moncrieff was actively employed in the American campaign.

In 1779 General Prevost [q. v.] carried the war into Carolina, and Moncrieff distinguished himself in the operations. At the pass of Stono Ferry Colonel Maitland and Moncrieff were strongly posted with the 71st regiment, the Hessians, and some militia, numbering in all some eight hundred men, when they were attacked by five thousand men under Major-general Lincoln, but after a stubborn fight won the day. Moncrieff joined in the pursuit of the flying enemy, and captured an ammunition wagon with his own hand. After the action Prevost was able to establish himself securely in the harbour of Port Royal, which gave him a firm footing in South Carolina, while he covered Georgia and kept open communication with Savannah.

When, on 9 Sept. 1779, Admiral D'Estaing anchored his fleet off the bar of Tybee at the mouth of the Savannah River, the British force was still at Port Royal, but General Prevost and Moncrieff were in Savannah, where only some ten guns were mounted in position. The troops were at once summoned from Port Royal, and by the extraordinary zeal and exertions of Moncrieff guns were landed from ships and taken from store until, in an incredibly short space of time, nearly a hundred pieces of cannon were mounted and a garrison of three thousand men concentrated at Savannah. D'Estaing sent a summons to the towns to surrender on the 9th, but two days later, after Generals Lincoln and Pulawsld had joined D'Estaing's camp, Prevost, having determined to hold out, defied the enemy. Moncrieff lost no time in completing his line of intrenchments with redoubt and batteries. He sank two vessels in the channel, and constructed above the town a boom, which was covered by the guns of the Germaine. He threw up earthworks with a celerity that led the French to declare that the English engineer made his batteries spring up like mushrooms in a night. The forces opposed to the British were much superior in number, the assailants being seven thousand strong; while the garrison, including sailors and every sort of man, did not exceed three thousand. The enemy opened their trenches about the middle of September, and by the 24th had pushed their sap to within three hundred yards of the intrenchments. On that day a sortie was made which created great havoc in the besieger's works, but the advance was continued until the night of 3 Oct., when a violent bombardment was opened upon the town from both fleet and army, and on 9 Oct. a general assault was delivered. The assault was successfully resisted, and the enemy was forced to retire with a very heavy loss. Admiral D'Estaing was among the wounded. This failure so disheartened the besiegers that on 18 Oct. the operations were abandoned. General Prevost, in his despatch to the secretary of state, observed in reference to Moncrieff's services : l There is not an officer or soldier of this little army, capable of reflecting and judging, who will not regard as personal to himself any mark of royal favour graciously conferred, through your lordship, on Captain Moncrieff.' Moncrieff was promoted for his services to be brevet-major on 27 Dec. 1779, and the promotion was dated, to give it more distinction, from the day on which the despatches relating the triumph at Savannah were presented to the king.

The troops remained in Savannah during the winter of 1779-80, expecting a force from New York to enable them to besiege Charlestown. This force, under Sir Henry Clinton the elder [q. v.], arrived in February 1780, and Charlestown was invested. Moncrieff was chief engineer. The batteries were opened on 10 April, and the siege was prosecuted with vigour and assiduity. On the capitulation of the place on 9 May, six thousand Americans with seven generals and a commodore became prisoners, and four hundred pieces of artillery were captured. The French ships lying in the harbour, with a thousand seamen, fell into the hands of the British. The loss to the British was 76 killed and 189 wounded. Clinton, in his despatch to Lord George Germaine, on 13 May, credited MoncriefF with the success of the operations. The only reward which Moncrieff received was promotion to be a brevet lieutenant-colonel on 27 Sept. 1780.

At the close of the war Moncrieff returned to England and was employed in the southern district, chiefly at Gosport. He was promoted to be engineer in ordinary and regimental captain on 1 Oct. 1784 and brevet-colonel on 18 Nov. 1790. On 14 July 1790 he had been appointed deputy quartermaster-general of the forces. In 1792-3 he reported to the Duke of Richmond on the defences of the coast of Kent, and was a member of a committee on the defences of Chatham.

When the French national convention declared war against Great Britain on 1 Feb. 1793, Moncrieff was appointed quartermaster-general to the force sent to Holland, under the Duke of York, to operate with the allies against the French. At the siege of Valenciennes Moncrieff, although on the staff, acted as chief engineer for the British force. The first parallel was traced on 13 June, and the batteries opened fire on the 18th, on which day Moncrieff received his promotion as regimental lieutenant-colonel of royal engineers. The trenches were pushed forward steadily until on the 28th the third parallel was formed by flying sap. From this poinfc mining commenced, and the greater part of July was spent in subterranean warfare. The assault was delivered on 25 July, and the allies established themselves in the outworks. The town surrendered on 28 July.

On 23 Aug. the Duke of York laid siege to Dunkirk, but owing to delay in the arrival of the siege train from England, Moncrieff was unable to trace the first parallel until the 29th, and the forces were not in position until some days later. In the meantime the French were making active preparations to raise the siege. On 5 Sept., as Moncrieff was arming the batteries, an alarm was given of a sortie from the town, at midday, and although the sortie was repulsed by the guard of the trenches, the besiegers' position was endangered. On the afternoon of the next day the garrison of Dunkirk attacked the right wing of the Duke of York's besieging army, and although they were driven back before sunset the 14th regiment suffered severely, and Moncrieff received a mortal wound. He died the next day, 7 Sept. 1793, and was buried at Ostend on 10 Sept. with military honours, the prince, General Ainslie, and all the officers available attending the funeral.

Moncrieff was unmarried and left to his sisters the estate of Airdrie in Scotland, which he had purchased from Sir John Anstruther, together with considerable property in the West Indies.

[Despatches; War Office Records; Royal Engineers' Records; Cust's Annals of the Wars of the Eighteenth Century, vols. iii. and iv.; Scots Magazine, 1779 and 1780; Gent. Mag. 1762, 1779, 1787, 1793; Dodsley's Annual Register, 1779; Beatson's Naval and Military Memoirs, vol. iv.; Stewart's Sketches of the Highlanders; Hist. of the Civil War in America, 1780; European Mag. 1790, vol. xviii.; Journal and Correspondence of General Sir Harry Calvert, by Sir Harry Verney, 1853.]

R. H. V.