Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cathcart, George
CATHCART, Sir GEORGE (1794–1854), general, third surviving son of Sir William Schaw Cathcart, first earl Cathcart [q. v.], was born on 12 May 1794. He received his first commission as a cornet in the 2nd life guards on 10 May 1810, and was promoted lieutenant into the 6th dragoon guards or carabiniers on 1 July 1811. In 1813 he succeeded his elder brother as aide-de-camp and private secretary to his father on his embassy to Russia, when Lord Cathcart was at once ambassador to the czar and military commissioner with the Russian army. As aide-de-camp Cathcart was constantly employed in carrying despatches from his father to the various English officers with the different Russian armies [see Campbell, Sir Neil; Lowe, Sir Hudson; and Wilson, Sir Robert]. He was present at all the chief battles in 1813, was the first to raise Moreau from the ground when he received his mortal wound at the battle of Dresden, and entered Paris with the allied armies on 31 March 1814. He was aide-de-camp to the Duke of Wellington in 1815 at the battles of Quatre Bras and Waterloo, and in Paris until 1818. He was then promoted to a company in the 1st West India regiment without purchase, and at once exchanged into the 7th hussars, of which he became lieutenant-colonel in May 1826. In 1828 he exchanged to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 57th regiment, in 1830 to that of the 8th hussars, and in 1838 to that of the 1st dragoon guards, and was promoted colonel on 23 Nov. 1841. In 1846 he gave up the command of this regiment, and took up the appointment of deputy-lieutenant of the Tower of London, where he resided until his promotion to the rank of major-general on 11 Nov. 1851. Cathcart was quite unknown to the general public, except from his excellent ‘Commentaries on the War in Russia and Germany in 1812 and 1813,’ published in 1850, and his appointment to succeed Major-general Sir Harry Smith as governor and commander-in-chief at the Cape was received with surprise in January 1852, and questions were asked in both houses of parliament about the appointment, for which the Duke of Wellington was really responsible. Cathcart was sent out to establish a colonial parliament and revive the dying loyalty of the colonists, and also to crush the Basutos and Kaffirs. On his arrival he summoned the first Cape parliament, and granted them a constitution, and then marched against the Kaffir and Basuto chiefs. The Kaffirs were soon subdued, and in the autumn of 1852 he marched against the Basutos, Sandilli and Macomo. He pursued them right into the recesses of the mountains, to which no English general had ever before penetrated, and in February 1853 Macomo and the old rebel Sandilli surrendered to him, and were granted residences within the Cape Colony. Cathcart received the thanks of both houses of parliament, and in July 1853 was made a K.C.B. On 12 Dec. 1853 he was appointed adjutant-general at the Horse Guards, and in April left the Cape. On reaching London he found that an army had already been sent to the East, and that he had been nominated to the command of the 4th division. The Duke of Newcastle also granted him a dormant commission, by which Cathcart was to succeed to the command-in-chief of the army in the East in case of any accident happening to Lord Raglan, in spite of the seniority of Burgoyne and Brown. His division was hardly engaged at all at the battle of the Alma, and his advice to storm Sebastopol at once was rejected by the allied generals. He at last became bitterly incensed against Lord Raglan for not paying more attention to him, and on 4 Oct. addressed him a note (see Kinglake, Invasion of the Crimea, v. 21), complaining of the influence of Sir George Brown and Major-general Airey, and alluding to the dormant commission. Raglan undoubtedly behaved coldly towards Cathcart, who regarded himself as badly treated, until a private letter from the Duke of Newcastle, dated 13 Oct. 1854, directed the cancelling of the dormant commission, which Cathcart accordingly surrendered on 26 Oct. On the morning of 5 Nov. he heard the heavy firing which announced the attack upon Mount Inkerman. He collected his 1st brigade and led them to where the battle was raging. There is a considerable conflict of evidence as to the later course of events. A despatch from Sir Charles Windham, first published in the ‘Times,’ 8 Feb. 1875, by Lord Cathcart, should be compared with Mr. Kinglake's narrative. The Duke of Cambridge sent, requesting him to fill the ‘gap’ on the left of the guards, and thus prevent them from being isolated; and Airey soon conveyed Lord Raglan's orders that Cathcart should ‘move to the left and support the brigade of guards, and not descend or leave the plateau.’ Great confusion prevailed; many contradictory messages were sent; and it is disputed whether Cathcart ever received these orders. Cathcart ordered General Torrens to lead his four hundred men down the hill to the right of the guards against the extreme left of the Russian column. Torrens was immediately struck down, and Cathcart rode down to take the command, but before he had gone far he perceived that a Russian column had forced its way through the ‘gap,’ and had isolated the guards. Cathcart then attempted to charge up the hill with some fifty men of the 20th regiment to repair his fault; his last words to his favourite staff officer, Major Maitland, were, ‘I fear we are in a mess,’ and then he fell dead from his horse, shot through the heart. Lord Raglan, his lifelong friend, referred to him in the highest terms in his despatches. Many posthumous honours were paid to him; a tablet was erected to him in St. Paul's Cathedral, though his body rests under the hill in the Crimea which bears his name, and it was announced in the ‘Gazette’ of 5 July 1855 that if he had survived he would have been made a G.C.B., but greater honour was paid to him in the universal lamentation which broke out upon the arrival of the news of his glorious death.
[For Sir George Cathcart's life see the notices which were published at the time of his death, and especially that in Colburn's United Service Magazine for January 1855; see also for his South African government the Correspondence of Lieut.-general the Hon. Sir George Cathcart, K.C.B., relative to his military operations in Kaffraria, 1856; and for his conduct at the battle of Inkerman, Kinglake's Invasion of the Crimea, vol. v.]