Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Baird, David
BAIRD, Sir DAVID (1757–1829), general, was the fifth son of William Baird of Newbyth, who was grandson of Sir Robert Baird, Bart., of Saughton, and cousin and heir of Sir John Baird, Bart., of Newbyth, and was born at Newbyth in December 1757. His father died in 1765, but his mother managed to obtain an ensigncy for him in the 2nd regiment in 1772. He joined his regiment at Gibraltar in 1773, and returned with it to England in 1776. In 1778 he was promoted lieutenant, and in the September of the same year, being then nearly twenty-one and of great height and fine military bearing, he was selected by Lord Macleod, a Scotch neighbour of his mother's, to be captain of the grenadier company in the Scotch regiment just raised by him, and at first called the 73rd, but afterwards famous as the 71st Highland light infantry. In 1779 the regiment embarked for India, captured Goree on the way, and after spending three months at the Cape reached India in January 1780. When Lord Macleod arrived, Hyder Ali was besieging Arcot, and his regiment was at once attached to a force under Sir Hector Monro, which was destined to relieve that city, and also to succour a force under Colonel Baillie, which was in danger of being cut off by Hyder Ali. To assist Baillie a small detachment, including the grenadier company of Macleod's regiment under Captain Baird, was sent off by Monro in advance. After a night march it effected a junction with Baillie, but on the next day the whole force was cut to pieces by Hyder Ali and his son, Tippoo Sahib. Baird had been severely wounded, and was left for dead, but nevertheless managed, with two companions, to find his way to the French camp. The French treated the prisoners kindly, but were soon obliged to surrender thein to their ally. Hyder Ali treated the captives with oriental barbarity, and had not Captain Lucas volunteered to bear two sets of irons, Captain Baird, though wounded and nearly dead, would have been heavily ironed. The captive officers lived for three years and eight months in most terrible agony, seeing their fellows going mad, and dying of fever, and knowing that many of them were taken from prison only to be poisoned or tortured to death. Nevertheless they managed to keep up their spirits, and Baird mentions that in three successive years they gaily drank the king's health on the 4th of June. At last, in March 1784, the remaining officers were released, and Captain Baird joined his regiment, and had the bullet, which had lodged in his thigh three years before, extracted. In 1787 he became major in his regiment, and came home to England in 1789. He purchased the lieutenant-colonelcy of his regiment in 1790, but, owing to the slowness of his agent, was not gazetted till after Moore, Cavan, and Ludlow, a mistake which, on two occasions, lost him the command-in-chief of an army.
In 1791 Lieutenant-colonel Baird returned to India, and was at once appointed by Lord Cornwallis to the command of a brigade of sepoys in the war against Tippoo. With it he did good service in reducing the southern hill forts of Mysore, and was present in 1792 at the operations of Lord Cornwallis and General Medows before Seringapatam. In 1793 he took Pondicherry, almost without resistance, from the French, and in 1795 was promoted colonel, and appointed to command at Tanjore. Here he got into considerable trouble by opposing the resident, who, under the direction of Lord Hobart, the governor of Madras, was doing his best to procure the annexation of Tanjore. The consequences might have been serious had not the 71st regiment been at this time ordered home after an absence of eighteen years, when Lieutenant-colonel Baird and one sergeant were the only survivors of the original establishment. The regiment was in splendid condition, so much so that whenever a European regiment arrived in India it was always sent to the quarters of the 71st to learn how a regiment should be conducted in India; but the men were now drafted into various other regiments, and only the officers and headquarters returned home. On his way to England Colonel Baird touched at the Cape and was implored by Lord Macartney, the governor, to remain there as brigadier-general, for the opposition of both officers and men to Sir David Dundas, who commanded in the colony, was so great that a mutiny was expected. Baird, therefore, remained at the Cape till 1798, when he was promoted major-general, and ordered to proceed to India with the Scotch brigade and 86th regiment. Major-general Baird was disappointed to find that, owing to the number of general officers in India, he could only receive the command of the first European brigade instead of a division in the second war with Tippoo, and was especially chagrined that the important command of the Nizam's contingent should be given to Colonel Arthur Wellesley instead of himself. Nevertheless, from his thorough knowledge of Indian warfare and his former experience in Mysore, he did good service, and when the storming of Seringapatam was determined on, he volunteered to lead the storming column. The confidence of the troops in him was unbounded, and the former prisoner of Hyder Ali successfully stormed Seringapatam on 4 May 1799, and Tippoo Sultan fell in the assault. Wearied with his exertions he requested to be relieved, and Colonel Wellesley was ordered to relieve him, and immediately afterwards appointed governor of Seringapatam. Baird felt that he had won this lucrative appointment, and indignantly complained to General Harris. Of course General Harris had a perfect right to bestow the governorship on whomsoever he pleased, and Lord Wellesley afterwards declared that he would have himself appointed his brother; yet there can be no doubt that it was Baird who had taken Seringapatam, and not Wellesley or Harris. Baird's temper was not improved when Lord Wellesley took him to Calcutta and gave him the subsidiary command at Dinapore, and he openly remonstrated when he found the governor-general's brother appointed to command an important expedition to the Spanish islands, and that too without surrendering his lucrative post at Seringapatam. This time Lord Wellesley felt obliged to yield, and the command of the expedition, the destination of which was now altered, was transferred to Baird.
When Lord Wellesley heard that the English army in the Meditenanean under Sir Ralph Abercromby was ordered to capture the French army which had been left in Egypt by Bonaparte, he determined that a force should co-operate from India, and Baird obtained the command. Arthur Wellesley was appointed second in command, but illness detained him at Bombay, and Baird reaped the whole credit of the operations. He reached Cosseir, on the Red Sea, in June 1801, and determined to march across the desert to the Nile. The march was a most difficult one; it was the middle of summer, the country was unknown, and the commissariat had broken down. But the intrepidity of Baird and the ingenuity of Auchmuty, his adjutant-general, overcame all obstacles, and the army reached the Nile in safety. Baird then dropped down the river in boats, and joined General Hutchinson, who had succeeded Sir Ralph Abercromby, three days after the surrender of Cairo. The Indian troops were, however, in time to co-operate in the taking of Alexandria. After General Hutchinson's departure a dispute arose between Lord Cavan, who succeeded him, and General Baird, his junior by a few days, as to whether the Indian force should be combined with the English army, or be maintained as a separate force. The dispute was eventually settled by Baird's official appointment as second in command in Egypt. Baird's expedition had particularly caught the fancy of the English people; his march across the desert had something romantic in it; catchpenny lives of him with bad pictures, and harrowing accounts of his former imprisonment, were largely circulated, and he became a popular hero. But his actual rewards were not great; his dispute with Lord Cavan had excited the displeasure of the military authorities, and he was only made a knight of the Crescent by the sultan, and colonel of the 54th regiment by the king. He returned to India in 1802, was warmly received there, and given the command of the northern division of the Madras army. On the approach of the Mahratta war he prepared his division for active service; but when Major-general Arthur Wellesley received the most important command he perceived at last that he had no chance against the governor-general's brothers, and threw up his command in disgust. He then started for England, but on the way home was taken prisoner by a French privateer, and retaken before he reached France. He had, however, given his parole, and was formally exchanged with the French general Morgan.
On reaching England, after twenty-four years' nearly continuous absence in the East, he was received with enthusiasm by the people, and knighted by the king. He did not stop long at home, but in 1805 was promoted lieutenant-general, and ordered to command the army which was to recapture the Cape of Good Hope. He was particularly fitted for this task, as he knew the ground thoroughly from his former sojourn there as brigadier-general. The expedition left England in August 1805, and reached the Cape on 5 Jan. 1806. The operations there were extremely short. On Jan. 8 he defeated General Janssens, the Dutch general; on 10 Jan. Cape-town surrendered; and on 18 Jan. the Dutch general surrendered. But unfortunately Sir Home Popham, the commodore on the station, a restless ambitious man, persuaded Sir David to lend him a brigade under General Beresford, to assist in a filibustering expedition against Spanish South America. General Beresford himself was taken prisoner, and though General Auchmuty, who came out with reinforcements, had a temporary success in taking Monte Video, the utter failure of General Whitelocke made the ministry eager to find scapegoats. Baird was one scapegoat, and in July 1806 he received a curt letter informing him that his successor, as governor of the Cape, was on his way. In January 1807 he left the Cape in great indignation, but on reaching England he found that the ministry had been changed, and Baird was appeased by being at once appointed to the command of the first division in the great expedition then preparing to invade Denmark, and seize the Danish fleet, under Lord Cathcart. The expedition was a simple one; but the bombardment of Copenhagen was under the immediate supervision of the first division, and during it Sir David was wounded in two places. On his return he was removed from the colonelcy of the 54th to that of the 24th regiment, which had two battalions, and told he might expect a more important command. In September 1808 he sailed from Cork with 10,000 men, to reinforce Moore's army in Spain, and to take up the appointment of second in command. He reached Corunua on 8 Oct., and at once detached General Mackenzie to reinforce Cradock at Lisbon. The Spanish authorities at Corunna would not allow him to land, and sent him to Vigo, whence he was sent back to Corunna. At last, on 19 Oct., he was allowed to land one brigade, but did not get his whole army ashore till '22 Oct. He then advanced towards Moore as he had been ordered, and reached Astorga on 19 Nov. There he waited, while Moore remained at Salamanca, until at last Baird was directed by Moore to move on Villa Franca. Fortunately he did not march till 4 Dec, for on 7 Dec. he was ordered to retreat on Corunna. On 20 Dec. the two armies met at Mayorga, and the terrible retreat was continued. Baird's troops were not in good condition, and whether it was that Baird had lost his vigour or was not a good general of retreats, there can be no doubt that his men straggled very much, and that their discipline was very poor compared with that of the reserve, who had to fight a battle nearly every day. At last Corunna was reached, and as the ships were not there a pitched battle was inevitable. Baird was to command the right wing, but he was not long in the field, as early in the action his left arm was broken by a cannon-ball. He was at once carried to a transport, where his arm was amputated, and where he heard the news of Moore's death and of the safe embarkation of the troops, and received Hope's famous report, which he at once sent home by his aide-de-camp. Captain Gordon. On reaching England he was made a K.B., and in the following year a baronet.
Corunna was the last of Sir David Baird's battles, and he never again commanded an army in the field. Whether it was want of political influence or the presence of some prejudice against him cannot be certainly said; but it is certain that even his earnest application for the government of the Cape in 1813 was refused, and he could not serve in the Peninsula under Lord Wellington, his junior. In spite of much unmerited neglect his latter years were very happy; he married a great heiress. Miss Campbell-Preston, and in 1814 became full general. At last the veteran could no longer be passed over, and in 1819 he was made governor of Kinsale. In 1820 he became commander of the forces in Ireland in succession to Sir G. Beckwith, and a privy councillor; but had to resign in 1822, when the office was reduced to a lieutenant-general's command. In 1829 he was made governor of Fort George; on 29 Aug. in that year he died at the age of 72. His widow erected an obelisk to him at Crieff, and employed Theodore Hook to write his life, which was published in 1832.
If Baird was not a very great general, he was certainly a gallant soldier, and the prisoner of Hyder Ali, the stormer of Seringapatam, and the general of the march across the desert, will deservedly remain a popular hero. There was a chivalrous gallantry in his nature which made the old pun, 'Not Baird, but Bayard,' particularly applicable to him.[The principal authority for Baird's life is his Life by Theodore Hook, 2 vols. 1832; and for his differences with Harris should be consulted Lushington's Life of Lord Harris, 1840. For the Egyptian campaign should be consulted Sir Robert Wilson's Campaign in Egypt, and Mémoires relatifs à l'expédition anglaise partie du Bengale en 1800 pour aller combattre l'armée de l'Orient, par M. le comte de Noë, Paris, 1826. For his campaign in the Peninsula see Napier's Peninsular War, book iii.; Notes on the Campaign of 1808-9 in the North of Spain, in reference to some passages in Lient.-Colonel Napier's History of the War in the Peninsula, and in Sir W. Scott's Life of Napoleon Bonaparte, by Lieut.-Colonel T. S. Sorell, military secretary and aide-de-camp to Sir David Baird during the campaign, 1829, with Napier's reply, published in his Answer to various Criticisms, 1832. and republished at the end of the last volume of his history.]