Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Craig, James Henry

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1325052Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 12 — Craig, James Henry1887Henry Morse Stephens

CRAIG, Sir JAMES HENRY (1748–1812), general, was the son of Hew Craig, for many years civil judge at Gibraltar and judge-advocate-general to the forces stationed there, who was a member of the family of the Craigs of Costarton and Dalnair. He did not enter the army as a private in the guards, as has been falsely asserted, but was gazetted to an ensigncy in the 30th regiment at the age of fifteen, on 1 June 1763. This regiment was then stationed at Gibraltar, but Craig was allowed to go on leave to complete his military education, which he did in the best military schools on the continent. On returning to Gibraltar he was appointed aide-de-camp to General Sir Robert Boyd, K.B., the lieutenant-governor of the fortress, and was promoted lieutenant in his own regiment on 19 July 1769, and captain into the 47th on 14 March 1771. He resigned his staff appointment in 1774 to accompany his regiment to America, and was severely wounded in his first action, the battle of Bunker's Hill. In 1776 the 47th was transferred to Canada, and Craig commanded his company in the action of the Trois Rivières and the advanced guard of the English army in the expulsion of the American troops after their failure before Quebec. In 1777 he was present at the capture of Ticonderoga and of Hutchestown, where he was again wounded, as he was in the action at Freeman's Farm, and he distinguished himself so much in the early part of Burgoyne's advance upon Saratoga, that the general sent him home with the despatches announcing his early successes. For this news he was promoted major without purchase into the newly raised 82nd regiment, with which he at once sailed for Nova Scotia. He served in Penobscot in 1779, and in North Carolina under Lord Cornwallis in 1781, either with his regiment or in command of light troops, and showed (to quote his biographer in the ‘Scots Magazine’) ‘such fertility of resources and remarkable clearness of military judgment’ that he was promoted lieutenant-colonel of the 82nd. On the conclusion of the war and the reduction of his regiment he was transferred to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 16th regiment, which he commanded in Ireland until 1791, and in 1790 he was promoted colonel. During this period Craig spent much time on the continent, studying the Prussian tactics and discipline, and he corresponded upon military subjects with David Dundas, whose new system of exercises was first made use of in the 16th, Craig's own regiment. When the war with France broke out, Craig filled for a few months the posts of commandant of the troops at Jersey, and then of deputy-governor of Jersey, but in 1794 he was transferred to the staff of the army in the Netherlands, and made adjutant-general to the Duke of York's army.

In this capacity he gave the greatest satisfaction to the duke, but the English army was in an utterly disorganised state, and it was not in Craig's power to restore its efficiency in the face of the enemy. For his services he was promoted major-general on 3 Oct. 1794 while with the army, and on the conclusion of the disastrous war in the Netherlands he was appointed to command a force which was to sail from England, and co-operate with an army from India in the capture of the Dutch colony of the Cape of Good Hope. When Craig reached Simon's Bay he found that the army from India had not arrived, but he determined nevertheless to effect a landing with the few troops under his command, namely, the 78th regiment and some marines. Rear-admiral Keith Elphinstone vigorously supported him and lent him a thousand sailors, and after disembarking at Simon's Bay on 14 Aug. 1795 he began to advance along the coast upon Capetown. He stormed the Dutch camp at Mayzenberg, and took up his position there; but his situation soon became most critical, for the Dutch governor collected all the Boer militia, and prepared to attack him with a far superior force. Fortunately at this juncture Major-general Alured Clarke arrived from India with reinforcements, and the Dutch governor surrendered the colony to him on 14 Sept. When Major-general Clarke returned to India he left the civil government and military command of the Cape to Craig, who remained there until the arrival of Lord Macartney in 1797, when he was invested with the order of the Bath by a special commission from the king. On returning to England he was at once given the command of a division in Bengal, and on his arrival in India he took up the command of the troops in the Benares district. The difficulties of his position were very great, for the discontent of the company's officers was driving them into open mutiny, and that their loyalty was restored without actual mutiny was largely due to the firmness of Craig [see Abercromby, Sir Robert]. He did not participate in any actual warfare in India, though he was nominated for the command of an expedition to Manilla, which did not take place, and he returned to England in 1802, on the news of his having been promoted lieutenant-general on 1 Jan. 1801. He took command of the troops in the eastern district until 25 March 1805, when, although in very bad health, he was made a local general in the Mediterranean, and ordered to proceed thither with a powerful army of over seven thousand men.

The history of this expedition to the Mediterranean is best told by Sir Henry Bunbury, who was Craig's quartermaster-general, in his ‘Narrative of some Passages in the Great War against France,’ and in the appendix to his book are to be found Craig's instructions and despatches (pp. 415–34), which show how vague were the projects of the ministry, and how great were the difficulties with which the general had to contend. His instructions were to co-operate with a Russian army in Italy, to land in the kingdom of Naples, and to march northward in order to act upon the flank of the great army of Napoleon, which was to be attacked in front by the combined Austrians and Russians. Craig disembarked his army of 7,300 men at Castellamare on 26 Nov. 1805, and General Lacy disembarked his thirteen thousand Russians at the same time, but the allied generals immediately received the news of the surrender of General Mack at Ulm, and of the retreat of the Archduke Charles. Craig at once saw how hopeless it was to attempt to defend the Neapolitan territory, yet at the earnest request of Lacy he consented to march on 9 Dec. and to take up a position with him on the northern frontier. Here, however, he received the news of the battle of Austerlitz, and then, in spite of the furious resistance of the queen, supported by the British minister, Hugh Elliot, he insisted upon returning to Castellamare and leaving Italy. He had no intention of leaving the Mediterranean, but he saw that, though Naples itself was indefensible, Sicily could be successfully held against the French. In spite, therefore, of the queen and Elliot, he left Castellamare on 19 Jan. 1806, and disembarked at Messina on the 22nd. Subsequent experience showed how wise Craig had been, for Sicily became the headquarters of the English in the Mediterranean, and was successfully defended against all the attacks of the French. Craig's health, however, became worse and worse, and in March 1806 he left Sicily, and handed over the command to Major-general John Stuart, afterwards to be known as the Count of Maida. The voyage to England did him good, and on 21 Aug. 1807 he was made a local general in America, and on 29 Aug. appointed captain-general and governor-general of Canada. Here too he had a difficult post to fill. The discontent of the United States at the naval policy of England was growing to a height that threatened war, and the population of Canada was too French in its origin to be well affected to the government. Nevertheless, here, as everywhere else, Craig proved himself to be an able administrator, he avoided a collision with the United States, and made himself loved and respected by the Canadians. He resigned his government in October 1811, and on his return to England was promoted general on 1 Jan. 1812. He did not long survive this last promotion, and died at his house in London on 12 Jan. 1812.

Craig was a general who showed his ability in many places and many commands, but his fame has been overshadowed by that of the Duke of Wellington and of the duke's lieutenants in the Peninsula. ‘Sir James Craig was a man who had made his way by varied and meritorious services to a high position in our army. He had improved a naturally quick and clear understanding by study, and he had a practical and intimate acquaintance with every branch of his profession. In person he was very short, broad, and muscular, a pocket Hercules, but with sharp, neat features, as if chiselled in ivory. Not popular, for he was hot, peremptory, and pompous, yet extremely beloved by those whom he allowed to live in intimacy with him; clever, generous to a fault, and a warm and unflinching friend to those whom he liked’ (Bunbury, Narrative, p. 182).

[Scots Mag. for March 1813, pp. 165–7, which makes no mention of his having served as a trooper, a mistake adopted from the Gentleman's Magazine by Ross, the editor of the Cornwallis Correspondence, and others; for the expedition to the Cape see Allardyce's Life of Lord Keith, and for his command in the Mediterranean Sir Henry Bunbury's Narrative of some Passages in the Great War against France.]

H. M. S.