1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Beresford, William Carr Beresford, Viscount
BERESFORD, WILLIAM CARR BERESFORD, Viscount (1768-1854), British general and Portuguese marshal, illegitimate son of the first marquess of Waterford, was born on the 2nd of October 1768. He entered the British army in 1785, and while in Nova Scotia with his regiment in the following year lost the sight of one eye by a shooting accident. He first distinguished himself at Toulon in 1793, receiving two years later the command of the 88th regiment (Connaught Rangers). In 1799 his regiment was ordered to India, and a few months later Beresford left with Sir David Baird’s expedition for Egypt, and was placed in command of the first brigade which led the march from Kosseir across the desert. When, on the evacuation of Egypt in 1803, he returned home, his reputation was established. In 1805 he accompanied Sir David Baird to South Africa, and was present at the capture of Cape Town and the surrender of the colony. From South Africa he was despatched to South America. He had little difficulty in capturing Buenos Aires with only a couple of regiments. But this force was wholly insufficient to hold the colony. Under the leadership of a French émigré, the chevalier de Timers, the colonists attacked Beresford, and at the end of three days’ hard fighting he was compelled to capitulate. After six months’ imprisonment he escaped, and reached England in 1807, and at the end of that year he was sent to Madeira, occupying the island in the name of the king of Portugal. After six months in Madeira as governor and commander-in-chief, during which he learnt Portuguese and obtained an insight into the Portuguese character, he was ordered to join Sir Arthur Wellesley’s army in Portugal. He was first employed as commandant in Lisbon, but accompanied Sir John Moore on the advance into Spain, and took a conspicuous part in the battle of Corunna (see Peninsular War). In February 1809 Beresford was given the task of reorganizing the Portuguese army. In this task, by systematic weeding-out of inefficient officers and men, he succeeded beyond expectation. By the summer of 1810 he had so far improved the moral and discipline of the force that Wellington brigaded some of the Portuguese regiments with English ones, and at Busaco Portuguese and English fought side by side. Beresford’s services in this battle were rewarded by the British government with a knighthood of the Bath and by the Portuguese with a peerage.
In the spring of 1811 Wellington was compelled to detach Beresford from the Portuguese service. The latter was next in seniority to General (Lord) Hill who had gone home on sick leave, and on him, therefore, the command of Hill’s corps now devolved. Unfortunately Beresford never really gained the confidence of his new troops. At Campo Mayor his light cavalry brigade got out of hand, and a regiment of dragoons was practically annihilated. He invested Badajoz with insufficient forces, and on the advance of Soult he was compelled to raise the siege and offer battle at Albuera. His personal courage was even more than usually conspicuous, but to the initiative of a junior staff officer, Colonel (afterwards Viscount) Hardinge, rather than to Beresford’s own generalship, was the hardly-won victory to be attributed. Beresford then went back to his work of reorganizing the Portuguese army. He was present at the siege of Badajoz and at the battle of Salamanca, where he was severely wounded (1812). In 1813 he was present at the battle of Vittoria, and at the battles of the Pyrenees, while at the battle of the Nivelle, the Nive and Orthez he commanded the British centre, and later he led a corps at the battle of Toulouse. At the close of the Peninsular War he was created Baron Beresford of Albuera and Cappoquin, with a pension of £2000 a year, to be continued to his two successors.
In 1819 the revolution in Portugal led to the dismissal of the British officers in the Portuguese service. Beresford therefore left Portugal and placed the question of the arrears of pay of his army before the king at Rio Janeiro. On his return the new Portuguese government refused to allow him to land, and he accordingly left for home. On arriving in England he turned his attention to politics, and strongly supported the duke of Wellington in the House of Lords. In 1823 his barony was made a viscounty, and when the duke of Wellington formed his first cabinet in 1828 he gave Beresford the office of master-general of the ordnance. In 1830 Beresford retired from politics, and for some time subsequently he was occupied in a heated controversy with William Napier, the historian of the Peninsular War, who had severely criticised his tactics at Albuera. On this subject Wellington’s opinion of Beresford is to the point. The duke had no illusions as to his being a great general, but he thought very highly of his powers of organization, and he went so far as to declare, during the Peninsular War, that, in the event of his own death, he would on this ground recommend Beresford to succeed him. The last years of Beresford’s life were spent at Bedgebury, Kent, where he had purchased a country estate. He died on the 8th of January 1854.