Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stuart, John (1759-1815)

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644862Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 55 — Stuart, John (1759-1815)1898Robert Hamilton Vetch

STUART, Sir JOHN (1759–1815), lieutenant-general, count of Maida, colonel of the 20th foot, son of Colonel John Stuart, was born in Georgia, North America, in 1759.

Stuart's father, John Stuart (1700?–1779), was born about 1700. He went to America in 1733 with General James E. Oglethorpe, and was in Fort Loudoun during the French war when it was invested by the Cherokee Indians. He made terms with Oconostota, who, having agreed that the garrison should march out with their arms and have free passage to Virginia, treacherously massacred them on the way; but Stuart, who was popular with the Indians, was saved. In 1763 he was appointed general agent and superintendent of Indian affairs for the southern department. He had a deputy with each tribe, and exerted great influence over the southern Indians. He took a prominent part on the royalist side in the war of independence, and, returning to England, died in 1779. His property in America was confiscated by the American government in 1782.

Educated at Westminster school, young Stuart obtained a commission as ensign in the 3rd foot guards on 7 Aug. 1778, and joining the battalion, then serving in the army under Sir Henry Clinton at New York, took part in the operations against the colonists in the war of American independence. He was present at the siege and capture of Charleston on 6 May 1780, and remained in South Carolina with the force under Lord Cornwallis. He took part in the battle of Camden on 16 Aug. and in the march into North Carolina in September and return in October. He was at the battle of Guildford on 15 March 1781, and at the surrender of the army at Yorktown on 18 Oct. following. He was severely wounded during the campaign. He was promoted to be lieutenant in the 3rd foot guards and captain in the army on 6 Nov. 1782.

After ten years of home service, he went, on the outbreak of the war with France, with his regiment to Flanders, landing with the troops under the Duke of York at Helvoetsluys on 5 March 1793. On 25 April he was promoted to be captain in the 3rd foot guards and lieutenant-colonel in the army. He was present at the battle of Famars on 23 May, at the investment and siege of Valenciennes, which capitulated on 28 July, and at the operations on the line of the Scheldt in August. He took part in the brilliant action at Lincelles on 18 Aug., was present at the siege of Dunkirk, at the actions of 6 and 8 Sept., and at the attack on Launoy on 28 Oct. He went with his battalion into winter quarters at Ghent in November. In 1794 he commanded his battalion at the siege of Landrecy, which fell on 30 April, at the battle of Tournay or Pont-à-Chin on 23 May, at the retreat behind the Dyle on 8 July, and to Nimeguen on 6 Oct., evacuating it on 7 Nov. He served with Dundas when the French were driven across the Waal on 30 Dec. He was with the army in its painful retreat across the Weluwe waste, and in its embarkation at Bremen and return to England in April 1795.

Stuart was promoted to be brevet colonel on 3 May 1796. He was appointed to a command on 30 Nov. as brigadier-general in the force under General the Hon. Charles Stuart in Portugal. He raised the queen's German regiment in 1798, and was appointed colonel of it on 26 Dec. This regiment was numbered on 6 June 1808 the 97th foot, and was disbanded in 1818. He went on the expedition to Minorca, and took part in its capture on 15 Nov. 1799, having been gazetted on 10 Nov. a brigadier-general in the force for Minorca.

From Minorca Stuart went to Egypt in 1801 as brigadier-general, under Sir Ralph Abercromby. He commanded the foreign brigade at the battle of 21 March on the plain of Alexandria, and at a critical moment brought up his brigade to the assistance of the reserve. Stuart's action was declared, in general orders of 23 March, to have been ‘as gallant as it was prompt, and [to have] entirely confirmed the fortunate issue of that brilliant day.’ At the close of the Egyptian campaign Stuart proceeded on a political mission to Constantinople, and thence returned to Egypt to take command of the British troops at Alexandria. He received knighthood of the order of the Crescent from the Sultan of Turkey; he was promoted to be major-general on 29 April 1802, and returned to England the same year.

On 17 Oct. 1803 Stuart was appointed to command a brigade of the force massed on the east coast of Kent in readiness to repel the threatened French invasion; he held the command until 24 March 1805, when he accompanied Lieutenant-general Sir James Craig, who had been appointed to the command of the British military forces in the Mediterranean. He arrived on 13 May at Gibraltar, where a protracted stay was made, and reached Malta on 18 July. On 3 Nov. he sailed with Craig's army from Malta to co-operate with the Russians under General Lascy from Corfu for the protection and assistance of the kingdom of Naples. The British disembarked on 21 Nov. at Castellamare in the bay of Naples, and, with the Russians, were distributed across Italy from Pescara to Gaeta. The battle of Austerlitz caused the Russian emperor in January 1806 to direct Lascy at once to seek safety by embarking his force and returning to the Ionian Islands. The British followed suit, retired to Castellamare, embarked on 14 Jan., and entered Messina harbour on the 22nd. The French, under Marshal Masséna and General Reynier, crossed the frontier on 9 Feb., and occupied the kingdom of Naples, except the fortress of Gaeta, which was held for King Ferdinand by the Prince of Hesse-Philipsthal, and was at first blockaded and then besieged by Masséna. The king and queen fled from Naples to Palermo. Stuart landed with the British troops at Messina on 17 Feb. By 24 March the French posts and picquets lined the straits of Messina on the Calabrian coast. In April, on account of ill-health, Craig resigned his command, and Stuart succeeded to it as next senior.

During May and June Stuart ascertained that the French in the south of Calabria were weak in numbers and exposed in position, while the main army under Masséna was still occupied with Gaeta. He therefore decided to strike a sudden blow at Reynier's army. The decision was kept a profound secret. Stuart's army was concentrated in or near Messina, and was easily embarked in transports already prepared. Under convoy Stuart proceeded on 30 June to the bay of St. Eufemia with his main force, sending the 20th regiment under Colonel Robert Ross [q. v.] to make a diversion by threatening Reggio and Scylla. Stuart disembarked, with slight opposition, on 1 July, and, in spite of a heavy surf, landed his guns and stores by the 3rd. On the 4th he marched to attack Reynier, who, with a superior force, had occupied a position below S. Pietro di Maida, a few miles away. During a critical part of the battle Ross, with the 20th regiment, arrived from Reggio, and Stuart gained a decisive victory.

Unfortunately Stuart (whose entire force amounted to no more than 4,800 men) had no cavalry with which to follow up his victory, or Reynier's army might have been completely destroyed. While the action was in progress Sir Sidney Smith arrived in his flagship. Stuart slept on board it that night, but neither he nor Sir Sidney Smith had the genius to grasp the possibilities of the situation, and to concert measures for a prompt move on Gaeta by land and sea to raise the siege. Stuart had intended only to strike a blow at the French in southern Calabria; he had done it ably and successfully, and he was content. Before returning to Sicily he undertook the siege of Scylla Castle. Operations were commenced on 12 July under the direction of Captain Charles Lefebure, commanding royal engineer, and continued until 23 July, when the place capitulated. Stuart arranged for the repairs of the castle, and for its occupation by a British garrison. Having destroyed other fortified posts, he returned with his expedition to Messina at the end of July. The British minister at Palermo informed the government of the high sense entertained by the Palermo court of Stuart's merits. For his brilliant operations he received the thanks of both houses of parliament and a pension of 1,000l. a year for life; he was made a knight of the Bath, created by the king of the two Sicilies Count of Maida, and he received the freedom of the city of London and a sword of honour. He was further appointed colonel of the 74th foot on 8 Sept. 1806.

On Stuart's arrival at Messina he found there General Fox, sent by the whig government to take the command of the land forces in the Mediterranean, and he learnt that large reinforcements were on their way from England under Lieutenant-general Sir John Moore (1761–1809) [q. v.], who was to be second in command. Stuart quite expected an officer senior to himself to be sent to take the command in succession to Craig, and he would have been well content to serve as second to General Fox; but to be relegated to a third place was distasteful to him, and soon after Moore's arrival he obtained leave to return home, arriving in England on 24 Nov. 1806.

On 29 Sept. 1807 Stuart was again sent to the Mediterranean as a major-general, and on 11 Feb. 1808 he was appointed to the chief command of the land forces in the Mediterranean, with the local rank of lieutenant-general. He was, however, promoted to be a lieutenant-general on the establishment on 25 April, and shortly after that date he proceeded to Messina. In the early part of October 1808 he received intelligence from Colonel (afterwards Sir) Hudson Lowe [q. v.], commandant at Capri, of Murat's attack on the island, and an urgent application for assistance. Stuart at once sent off reinforcements without waiting for a convoy, but, meeting with a gale, they did not reach Capri until 17 Oct., a few hours after Hudson Lowe had been obliged to capitulate.

In 1809 Stuart, in conjunction with Collingwood, decided on an expedition to the bay of Naples. He sailed on 11 June with upwards of eleven thousand men, convoyed by the fleet. At the same time he sent a force to attack the castle of Scylla to make a diversion, and for the better safety of Messina during his absence. This diversion was unsuccessful, and the siege was abandoned. In the meantime Stuart, delayed by calms, did not arrive in the bay of Naples until 24 June. The following day he disembarked his troops on the island of Ischia, and, with the exception of the castle, carried it by assault. Procida was then summoned and surrendered. The following day twenty-four of Murat's gunboats were captured and five destroyed. The castle of Ischia was then besieged, and surrendered on 30 June.

Collingwood having represented to Stuart that there was fresh activity at Toulon, where the French had a large fleet, and that the British ships and transports were not secure at the Ischia anchorage against the sudden attack of the superior fleet, Stuart re-embarked and returned with his army to Messina.

Stuart's despatches to Lord Liverpool at this time showed grave mistrust of the intentions of the court of Palermo and of the Sicilian troops. Murat was making considerable preparations for the invasion of Sicily, and Stuart pointed out to Lord Liverpool the inefficiency of the Sicilian army, militia, and marine. Some twenty-five thousand French troops were massed at the extremity of Lower Calabria, and more were behind them, while in the month of June 1810 Stuart had less than fourteen thousand men. Notwithstanding this trying state of affairs, Stuart was directed to send away four battalions of his force to Gibraltar, so soon as a smaller number of sickly soldiers returned from the expeditions to the Scheldt should arrive from England. Stuart remonstrated, and upon reiterated instructions from Lord Liverpool positively declined to send them unless it were understood that he could not hold himself responsible if his force were reduced.

Stuart's engineers in the meantime were not idle. A chain of heavy batteries connected the Faro Point with the fortress of Messina, and these were supported by fortified posts and barracks, while a flotilla of nearly one hundred boats lay clustered round the Faro, ready to attack the enemy's transport boats whenever they should cross the straits; and hardly a day passed without a skirmish more or less brisk between the opposing flotillas. On the night of 17 Sept. six battalions of Corsicans and Neapolitans crossed the straits and landed seven miles to the south of Messina, intending to gain the mountain ridge in the British rear. Stuart at once despatched troops to meet them, and secured the mountain paths. The enemy were repulsed, a whole battalion captured, and the rest driven to their boats with great loss. When the day broke the French divisions were seen embarking on the opposite shore, but, on finding that the diversion had failed, they disembarked.

In the following month Murat began quietly to withdraw his troops from Lower Calabria. Stuart, unaware of this movement, recapitulated in October in a despatch to Lord Liverpool his suspicions of the court of Palermo and the dangers of the situation to the British. He declared that under the existing circumstances he could not continue to be responsible, and resigned his command. His resignation was accepted, and he left Messina for England at the end of October. He received from the court of Palermo the order of knighthood of San Gennaro.

Stuart was appointed lieutenant-governor of Grenada in 1811. On 10 June 1813 he was appointed to the command of the western military district, with his headquarters at Plymouth. This command he resigned on 24 June 1814, owing to ill-health. On 3 Jan. 1815 he was made a military knight grand cross of the order of the Bath on its extension and revision. He died at Clifton on 2 April 1815, and was buried under the south choir aisle of Bristol Cathedral on 13 April. A small diamond-shaped marble slab let into the floor marks the spot. A portrait was painted by W. Wood, and engraved by Freeman in octavo and quarto sizes.

[War Office Records; Despatches; Annual Register, 1806–15; Gent. Mag. 1806–15; Appleton's Cyclopædia of American Biography; Bunbury's Narrative of Passages in the Great War with France from 1799 to 1810 (but Bunbury's estimate of Stuart is prejudiced by a strong antagonistic bias); Cannon's Historical Records of the 20th Foot, also of the 74th Foot; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, vol. ii.; Carmichael Smyth's Chronological Epitome of the Wars in the Low Countries; Jones's Sieges in Spain, &c.; Stedman's American War of Independence; Alison's Hist. of Europe; Cust's Annals of the Wars of the Eighteenth Century; Lord Teignmouth's Reminiscences, ii. 274; Grant's Adventures of an Aide-de-Camp contains a spirited account of the battle of Maida and the operations that followed.]

R. H. V.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.261
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line
99 ii 21 f.e. Stuart, Sir John(1759-1815): for Philipstadt read Philipsthal