Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/O'Reilly, Alexander
O'REILLY, ALEXANDER (1722?–1794), Spanish general, born in Ireland, of Roman catholic parents, about 1722, entered at an early age the Spanish army. As sub-lieutenant in the regiment of Hibernia he served in the campaigns against the Austrians in Italy, and received a wound that lamed him for life. In 1757 he joined the Austrian army, and took part in two campaigns against the Prussians under his countryman. Count Maurice Francis Lacy [See under Lacy, Peter, Count Lacy]. In 1759 he joined the French army, but was so highly commended to the king of Spain by Marshal de Broglie that he was invited to 'return to the Spanish army and granted the rank of colonel. In that capacity he served in the war with Portugal in 1762, and acquired the reputation of being one of the best officers in the Spanish service. Promoted to be brigadier on the staff and adjutant-general for instruction, he taught the Spanish troops the Prussian exercises. At the peace he became a major-general and was appointed governor of Havana, which was then restored to Spain, and where he rebuilt the fortifications. Subsequently be was sent to take possession of Louisiana, where his severities the inhabitants of New Orleans renderedi him unpopular. On his return to Spain he was made inspector-general of infantry and governor of Madrid. He headed troops that rallied round Charles III after his escape from the city during the terrible emeute of 1765. He remained in high favour with the king, and was selected to command the Spanish expedition against Algiers in 1776.
The selection of a foreigner for the command provoked much jealousy among the Spanish officers. O'Reilly had under his orders forty ships of the line and 350 other vessels, carrying a force of thirty thousand troops of all arms. The ships, however, did not all arrive at once ; and the flat-bottomed for landing the troops had been forgotten. In the end, fearing that his ships would run aground, O'Reilly prepared to and put on shore a force of ten thousand troops, under the Marquis de la Romana, to cover the landing of the rest. The Spaniards fought bravely against the Algerines, entrenched behind the hedges of prickly and aloes, but lost four thousand men, it is said, and their leader, Romana (father of the Spanish commander of that name in Napoleonic epoch). Unable to carry out his plans, which had received general approval, O'Reilly returned sadly to Barcelona on 24 Aug. 1775. His failure at Algiers detracted much from his military reputation, but did not influence his relations with the king, who put him at the head of the military school, established first at Avila and afterwards at Port Sta. Marie, and subsequently made him commander-in-chief in Andalusia and governor of Cadiz. After the death of Charles III in 1788, O'Reilly fell into disgrace, was deprived of his military emoluments, and retired to Galicia on a small pension. But, despite his advancing years and his many enemies, he was thought the only man fit to lead the Spanish armies, after the death of General Ricardos, when the French National Convention declared against Spain in 1793. He was appointed to command the army in the Eastern Pyrenees, and was on his way thither when he died, rather suddenly, at a small village in Murcia, on 23 March 1794.
[Nouv. Biogr. Gén. vol. xxxviii., and Spanish American references there given ; Dict. Univers. vol. xxxi.]