Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Craufurd, Robert

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CRAUFURD, ROBERT (1764–1812), general, third son of Sir Alexander Craufurd, first baronet, of Newark, Ayrshire, and brother of General Sir Charles Gregan-Craufurd, G.C.B. [q. v.], was born on 5 May 1764. He entered the army as an ensign in the 25th regiment in 1779, was promoted lieutenant in 1781, and captain into the 75th regiment in 1783. With this regiment he first saw service, and served through the war waged by Lord Cornwallis against Tippoo Sultan in 1790, 1791, and 1792, and thoroughly established his reputation as a good regimental officer. After his return to Europe, he was attached to his brother Charles when English representative at the Austrian headquarters. He remained with the Austrians after his brother's severe wound, and on his return to England in December 1797 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel. In the following year he was appointed deputy quartermaster-general in Ireland, and his services during the suppression of the Irish insurrection of 1798 were warmly recognised by General Lake, and especially those rendered in the operations against General Humbert and the French corps (see Cornwallis Correspondence, ii. 402). In 1799 he acted as English military commissioner with Suwarrow's headquarters during his famous campaign in Switzerland, and after serving on the staff in the expedition to the Helder, he was elected M.P. for East Retford, through the influence of his brother Charles, who had married the Dowager Duchess of Newcastle, to whose family the borough belonged. He was promoted colonel on 30 Oct. 1805, and gave up his seat in 1806 in the hope of going on active service. In 1807 he was sent to South America on the staff of General Whitelocke, and took command of a light brigade, consisting of a battalion of the 95th regiment, the Rifle Brigade, and the light companies of all the other regiments. With this brigade he led the advance upon Buenos Ayres, and in the attack upon that city he successfully accomplished the task before him, when he was suddenly checked by the orders of Whitelocke and ordered to surrender with the rest of the army. His conduct in this expedition had established his reputation as a leader of light troops, and in October 1807 he sailed with Sir David Baird for the Peninsula, in command of the light brigade of the corps which that general was ordered to take to the assistance of Sir John Moore. This corps joined Sir John Moore's army at Mayorga on 20 Dec., and Craufurd's brigade was perpetually engaged, especially at Castro Gonzalo on 28 Dec., until 31 Dec., when the light division was ordered to leave the main army and march to Vigo, where it embarked for England. In 1809 he was again ordered to the Peninsula, with the rank of brigadier-general, to take command of the light brigade, consisting of the 43rd, 52nd, and one battalion of the 95th regiment; and when on his way to join Sir Arthur Wellesley he met with stragglers declaring that a great battle had been fought, and that the general had been killed. He at once determined to make a forced march to the front, and reached the army on the day after the battle of Talavera, after marching sixty-two miles in twenty-six hours in heavy fighting order, a feat unparalleled in modern warfare. From this time the career of the light brigade and its leader was one of exceptional brilliancy; Craufurd was an unequalled commander of light troops, his officers and men believed in him and trusted him implicitly, and he remained continually in advance of the allied army in the very face of the overpowering numbers of the French. His operations on the Coa in July 1810, to which Napier devotes a most interesting chapter (Peninsular War, bk. xi. ch. iv.), have been severely criticised, and there can be no doubt that his headstrong rashness placed him in a situation of extreme danger, from which he only extricated himself by the extraordinary discipline of his soldiers. Wellington was very much vexed at Craufurd's behaviour on this occasion, but Craufurd cared little for Wellington's censure, and Wellington knew too well how little he could spare his brilliant subordinate to do more than censure him, and even increased his command to a division, consisting of two brigades instead of a single brigade, by giving him two regiments of Portuguese caçadores, or light infantry. During the retreat upon Torres Vedras the light division covered the retreating army, a task of much difficulty, and at Busaco it drove back and charged down the corps of Ney, which had formed a lodgment upon the English line of heights. When the army went into winter quarters in the lines of Torres Vedras, Craufurd went home to England on leave, and during his residence there he published in the ‘Times’ a defence of his operations of the Coa, which Masséna had interpreted into a victory for himself. During his absence the light division had been commanded by Sir William Erskine with decided incapacity, and his return to the army on the very morning of the battle of Fuentes de Onoro on 5 May 1811 was greeted with ringing cheers by his soldiers. In that battle the light division played a distinguished part, and covered the extraordinary change of position which Lord Wellington found it necessary to make in the very face of the enemy, and it remained under the command of Craufurd, who was promoted major-general on 4 June 1811, until the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo was formed in January 1812. When the breaches were declared open, the light division was directed on 19 Jan. to attack the smaller breach; Craufurd led on the stormers, and at the very beginning of the assault he was shot through the body. He lingered in great agony until 24 Jan., when he died, and was buried in the breach itself. His glorious death was recognised by votes of both houses of parliament. A monument was erected to him and General Mackinnon, who was killed in the same siege, in St. Paul's Cathedral, at the public expense. Craufurd was unquestionably the finest commander of light troops who served in the Peninsula. Napier speaks of his ‘short, thick figure, dark flashing eyes, quick movements, and fiery temper,’ but in spite of his faults of tamper he won and retained to the last the devoted love of the soldiers he commanded.

[Biography in J. W. Cole's Lives of Peninsular Generals, vol. i.; see also Napier's Peninsular War, and works bearing on the history of the Light Division, such as Cope's History of the Rifle Brigade, Quartermaster Surtees's Reminiscences, and Col. Edward Costello's Adventures of a Rifleman.]

H. M. S.