Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Codrington, William John

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CODRINGTON, Sir WILLIAM JOHN (1804–1884), general, second son of Admiral Sir Edward Codrington [q. v.], the victor of Navarino, was born on 26 Nov. 1804. He entered the army as an ensign in the Coldstream guards in 1821, and was promoted lieutenant in 1823, lieutenant and captain in 1826, captain and lieutenant-colonel in 1836, and colonel in 1846, and throughout that period had never been on active service. He found himself at Varna in the summer of 1854, when the English and French armies were encamped there, either as a mere visitor and colonel unattached, as Kinglake says, or in command of the battalion of Coldstream guards, when his promotion to the rank of major-general was gazetted on 20 June 1854. As a general officer on the spot he was requested by Lord Raglan to take command of the 1st brigade of the light division, consisting of the 7th, 23rd, and 33rd regiments, which had become vacant owing to the promotion of Brigadier-general Richard Airey [q. v.] to be quartermaster-general in the place of Lord de Ros. As a general commanding a brigade and absolutely without experience of war, Codrington went into action in his first battle, the battle of the Alma. The light division got too far ahead and fell into confusion in crossing the Alma, and Codrington, seeing that his men could not lie still and be slaughtered by the Russian guns, boldly charged the great redoubt and carried it. But he had soon to fall back before the weight of the Russian column, and ran a risk of being utterly crushed, until the Russian column was broken by the charge of the highland brigade under Sir Colin Campbell. His bravery in this battle showed that Codrington deserved his command, and he again proved his courage at the battle of Inkerman, where he occupied the Victoria Ridge throughout the day, and perpetually sent off all the troops who came up to his help to assist in the real battle on the Inkerman tusk. Sir George Brown [q. v.], who commanded the light division, was severely wounded in this battle, and after it Codrington assumed the command of the whole division as senior brigadier. Throughout the winter 1854-5 he remained in command of the division, and on 5 July 1855 he received the reward of his constancy by being made a K.C.B. Codrington arranged with General Markham, commanding the 2nd division, the attack on the Redan of 8 Sept., but blame seems to have been showered more freely on Sir James Simpson, who commanded in chief since Lord Raglan's death, than on the actual contrivers of that fatal attack. On 11 Nov. 1855, for some reason that has never been properly explained, Codrington succeeded Sir James Simpson as commander-in-chief instead of Sir Colin Campbell, who had much better claims to the succession, and he commanded the force occupying Sebastopol, for there was no more fighting, until the final evacuation of the Crimea on 12 July 1856. On his return to England, Codrington was promoted lieutenant-general, appointed colonel of the 54th regiment, and in 1857 was elected M.P. for Greenwich in the liberal interest. From 1859 to 1865 he was governor of Gibraltar. He was made a G.C.B. in the latter year, and was promoted general in 1863. In 1860 he was transferred to the colonelcy of the 23rd regiment, and in 1875 to that of the Coldstream guards, the regiment in which he had risen. He remained an active politician to the end of his life, and contested Westminster in 1874, and Lewes in 1880, in the liberal interest. He saw no active service except in 1854 and 1855, and yet he was twice offered the rank of field-marshal, which he wisely refused. He wore a medal and four clasps for the Crimea, and was a commander of the Legion of Honour, a knight grand cross of the order of Savoy, and a member of the first class of the Medjidie. Codrington died on 6 Aug. 1884, in his eightieth year, at Danmore Cottage, Heckfield, Winchfield in Hampshire, leaving a son in his old regiment, the Coldstream guards, and a daughter, the widow of Major-general William Earle, C.B., C.S.I.

[Times obituary notice, 8 Aug. 1884 ; Kinglake's Invasion of the Crimea.]

H. M. S.