Windham, Charles Ash (DNB00)
|←Windeyer, William Charles||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 62
Windham, Charles Ash
WINDHAM, Sir CHARLES ASH (1810–1870), lieutenant-general, born at Felbrigg on 8 Oct. 1810, was fourth son of Admiral William Windham of Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk, and a great-nephew of William Windham [q. v.] He was educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and entered the Coldstream guards at the age of sixteen. His regimental commissions bore the following dates: ensign and lieutenant 30 Dec. 1826, lieutenant and captain 31 May 1833, captain and lieutenant-colonel 29 Dec. 1846. Windham accompanied the 2nd battalion of the Coldstream guards to Canada in January 1838, and served with them in that country during Papineau's rebellion, returning to England in the autumn of 1842. On 22 June 1849 he retired on half-pay.
On the outbreak of the Crimean war Windham was still on half-pay, but, having on 20 June 1854 been promoted to the rank of colonel, he was appointed assistant quartermaster-general of the 4th division of the army of the east, and accompanied his divisional commander, Lieutenant-general Sir George Cathcart [q. v.], to Constantinople and thence to the Crimea.
Windham landed with the 4th division on 14 Sept. 1854, and immediately attracted notice by his energetic performance of his duties. He was present at the battle of the Alma on 20 Sept., but the 4th division, being in reserve, was very slightly engaged. During the hazardous march of the allied armies from the valley of the Belbek to the position south of Sebastopol, Windham was sent by Cathcart to inform the senior naval officer on the Katcha station of the change of base to Balaclava, a service involving considerable risk. The 4th division was slightly engaged at the battle of Balaclava (25 Oct. 1854), occupying two of the redoubts from which the Turkish infantry had been driven. Windham highly distinguished himself at the battle of Inkerman (5 Nov. 1854), and, owing to the death of Cathcart and to the death of one brigadier of the division and the disablement of the other, he succeeded at an early period of the battle to the command of the 4th division. After the engagement he wrote the official report of the proceedings of the division during the battle.
Throughout the terrible winter of 1854 Windham exerted himself to the utmost to alleviate the sufferings of his own division and of the army generally. Never absent from duty, he devoted his spare time to making daily personal visits to the base at Balaclava, with the object of obtaining supplies for his starving and frozen division. At the same time he incessantly plied both his immediate superiors and the headquarter staff of the army with advice and suggestions. In July 1855 he was made a companion of the order of the Bath, and in the following month he was given command of the 2nd brigade of the 2nd division, but did not receive the rank of brigadier-general.
Windham was selected to lead the storming party of the 2nd division at the assault on the Redan on 8 Sept. 1855. Although the assault failed, the gallantry of Windham's conduct earned the warm commendation of General (Sir) James Simpson [q. v.], who had succeeded Lord Raglan in the command of the army in the Crimea. Extraordinary enthusiasm was aroused when the descriptions of the assault, written by the special correspondents of the ‘Times’ and other papers, were published in England, and Windham became, in a moment, the best known and most popular man in his native country. On 2 Oct. 1855 he was promoted to the rank of major-general ‘for his distinguished conduct.’ On the day following the fall of Sebastopol he was appointed commandant of the portion of that town which was allotted to our army; and on the news of his promotion to major-general reaching the Crimea he was given command of the 4th division. A month later the command of the army was resigned by General Simpson, who was succeeded by Sir William John Codrington [q. v.], with Windham as his chief of the staff. He exerted himself indefatigably to fulfil the duties of his post and to render the Crimean army efficient and mobile.
On his return from the Crimea he was received with great honour, particularly in his native county of Norfolk. The gift of a sword of honour and the freedom of the city of Norwich were followed by his return to parliament as one of the two liberal representatives of East Norfolk (6 April 1857). His parliamentary career, however, was short. On the outbreak of the Indian mutiny he offered his services, and almost immediately was directed to proceed to Calcutta, where he arrived on 20 Sept. 1857, shortly after the capture of Delhi. Finding that Sir Colin Campbell [q. v.], the recently appointed commander-in-chief in India, destined him for the command of the Sirhind division, far from the scene of action, Windham volunteered to keep open the lines of communication if given the services of some of the disarmed regiments of the Bengal army. This offer was declined; but while proceeding to Umballa to join his division, Windham was placed by Sir Colin Campbell in command of the troops at Cawnpore. Sir Colin was about to move from this base to carry out the operations known generally as the second relief of Lucknow; and, considering it necessary that his force should be strengthened as rapidly as possible, he left Windham little freedom of action. Windham's force consisted at the time of the commander-in-chief's departure (9 Nov. 1857) of no more than five hundred mixed troops; but five days later, when it became clear that Cawnpore would be attacked by the Gwalior army before Sir Colin could return from Lucknow, Windham was authorised by the chief of the staff, Sir William Mansfield, to detain troops that arrived from down country. Thus it was that on 26 Nov., when Windham fought his first action as an independent commander, his forces consisted of about fourteen hundred of all arms, together with three hundred men left to garrison the Cawnpore entrenched position.
Windham had been directed by the commander-in-chief to place his troops within the entrenched position, and not to attack the enemy unless by so doing he could prevent a bombardment of the entrenchment. But on completing his arrangements for defence, he found that he would inevitably be bombarded if he awaited the attack of the enemy in the entrenchments, and that the only course that would enable him to preserve the bridge over the Ganges would be to take up a more advanced line of defence. The loss of this bridge would have rendered Sir Colin Campbell's position in Oude one of the utmost peril.
Windham asked (on 10 Nov.) permission to hold a line outside the town of Cawnpore, and the reply of the chief of the staff, written on the following day, clearly authorised him to do so, provided that he could secure his retreat from the advanced position to the entrenchment.
On 19 Nov. all communication with Lucknow suddenly ceased, and Windham discovered that the Gwalior contingent was rapidly approaching Cawnpore in three divisions. No reply reached him to several letters in which he begged for permission to attack the advancing enemy in detail, and thus it was that he decided at last to do so on his own responsibility, seeing in this action his only chance of holding the town, bridge, and entrenchment of Cawnpore against the overwhelming force that was about to attack him. On 24 Nov. he marched six miles to the south-west of Cawnpore, and two days later he there fought a successful action against the centre division of the Gwalior troops under Tantia Topi, three thousand men, with six heavy guns, three of which were captured. After this successful action Windham marched back and took up a position from which he hoped to be able to cover Cawnpore against the attack of the combined forces of the three bodies of the Gwalior troops. Two days of severe fighting followed, in which he was forced back through the town of Cawnpore and lost his baggage, but held safely the bridge and entrenchment. The reason why he was not successful in protecting the town has never been generally known. It lies in the circumstance that one of his subordinate commanders seriously failed in his duty. Windham treated the offender with remarkable generosity, and it was not until several days later that the circumstance came to the knowledge of Sir Colin Campbell, who had meanwhile omitted all mention of Windham and his troops in his despatch of 2 Dec. 1857 describing the operations. This omission was repaired to a certain extent by a private letter from Sir Colin Campbell to H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge (published in ‘The Crimean Diary and Letters of Sir Charles Windham’); but the public slight was never publicly withdrawn, nor was Windham again entrusted with a command in the field.
On the termination of the operations about Cawnpore, Windham was directed to leave the field army and to assume command of the Lahore division, to which he had been transferred. He remained in command at Lahore until March 1861, when he returned to England.
In June 1861 Windham was appointed colonel of the 46th regiment, and on 5 Feb. 1863 he became a lieutenant-general. In 1865 he received the honour of K.C.B., and on 3 Oct. 1867 was appointed to the command of the forces in Canada, which appointment he held until his death at Jacksonville in Florida on 2 Feb. 1870.
Windham married, first, in 1849, Marianne Catherine Emily, daughter of Admiral Sir John Beresford; and secondly, in 1866, Charlotte Jane, sister of Sir Charles Des Vœux, bart. His eldest surviving son, Captain Charles Windham, R.N., was born in 1851.[The Crimean Diary and Letters of Sir Charles Windham, ed. Pearse, 1897; Official Records and Despatches; Adye's Cawnpore; Shadwell's Life of Clyde, 1887, ii. 24–30; Lord Roberts's Forty-one Years in India, 1897, i. 361–9, 377–80; Times, war correspondence (Sir W. H. Russell).]