Halkett, Hugh (DNB00)

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HALKETT, HUGH, Baron von Halkett (1783–1863), general of Hanoverian infantry, lieutenant-colonel in the British service, second son of Major-general Frederick Godar Halkett [q. v.], was born at Musselburgh 30 Aug. 1783. As a boy he was chiefly noticed for his activity and love of horses. On 19 April 1794 he was made ensign in his father's battalion of the Scotch brigade, then raising; became lieutenant in 1795; joined the regiment in 1797, and in 1798 (up to which time he was shown on the rolls as on recruiting service) went out to India in charge of a draft of 240 men, but arrived after the capture of Seringapatam, in which the Scotch brigade took part. He served in India until 1801, when he was invalided home. In 1803 he was nominated senior captain of the light battalion raising in Hanover under his brother, Colin Halkett [q. v.], which became the 2nd light battalion of the king's German legion in British pay, and in which Hugh Halkett became major before he was twenty-two. He served with the battalion in the north of Germany under Lord Cathcart in 1805–6, in the isle of Rugen and at the siege of Stralsund in 1807, and in the expedition against Copenhagen later in the year. His promptitude in outpost duty in seizing a Danish redoubt without waiting for orders won the approval of Sir David Baird. Halkett, who was very modest in speaking of his own deeds, used to allude to the occurrence in after years as ‘the best thing I ever did’ (Allg. deutsche Biogr.; Beamish, i. 116–118). He went with his battalion to Sweden in 1808, and thence to Portugal. He was in the Corunna retreat with the troops that embarked at Vigo and were not actually present at the battle of Corunna, in the Walcheren expedition, and at the siege of Flushing, and in 1811 went to the Peninsula and commanded his battalion at the battle of Albuera. He commanded it again in the following year at the siege of the forts of Salamanca, at the battle of Salamanca, and in the Burgos retreat, where the light brigade, composed of the 1st and 2nd light battalions of the German legion, formed the rear-guard of the army. On 22 Oct. 1812 these battalions distinguished themselves by their gallant repulse of the French cavalry at Venta de Pozo (Beamish, ii. 114; Napier, bk. xix. chap. iv.). Halkett was promoted to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 7th line battalion of the legion, then in Sicily. In April 1813 Halkett, then on leave in England, was sent to North Germany, with some officers and men of the German legion, to assist in organising the new Hanoverian levies (Beamish, ii. chaps. vii. and ix.). In command of a brigade of these troops in Count Walmoden's army he distinguished himself at the battle of Göhrde, 16 Sept. 1813, and in the unsuccessful fight with the Danes at Schestedt in December following. On the latter occasion, when a Danish cavalry regiment was attacking a battalion of his brigade, Halkett dashed upon the standard-bearer, seized the standard, and escaped by clearing a quickset hedge with double ditch, over which none of his many pursuers cared to follow (Allg. deutsche Biogr.) He held command at the sieges of Gluckstadt and Harburg in 1814. In the Waterloo campaign Halkett commanded the 3rd and 4th brigades of the subsidiary force of Hanoverian militia or landwehr, which accompanied the newly organised Hanoverian regular troops (not to be confused with the German legion in British pay) into Belgium. On 18 June these brigades were with Clinton's division in the wood to the right of Hougoumont, where, at the close of the day, Halkett distinguished himself by taking prisoner the French general, Cambronne, commander of the imperial guard, whose traditional utterance, ‘La garde meurt, et ne se rend pas,’ he laconically pronounced to be ‘damned humbug.’ It is probable, however, that the words were actually spoken to the guard. Halkett's version was that, after the last French advance, broken parties of the guard, which had already begun to fall back, were close to the British advanced skirmishers. Observing a French general rallying his men, and wishing to give encouragement to his own young soldiers, Halkett put spurs to the powerful English hunter he bestrode, which started off. The French evidently thought that Halkett's horse had bolted. Coming close to Cambronne, Halkett presented a pistol and called on him to surrender, which he did. At the moment Halkett's horse was shot under him, and he saw Cambronne making off towards his men. Getting his horse on its legs again with a desperate effort, Halkett pursued, caught Cambronne by the aiguillette, swung him round and cantered off with him into the British line (Beamish, ii. 381; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. ii. 144; Wilkinson, Reminiscences, ii. 55). After the peace the German legion in British pay, in which Halkett was still lieutenant-colonel 7th line battalion, was disbanded. Halkett was put on British half-pay, which he drew until his death.

Halkett and other legionaries received permanent appointments in the new Hanoverian army. In 1817 he was colonel of the Embden landwehr battalion, linked with the 10th Hanoverian line infantry; in 1818 he became a major-general in the Hanoverian army, and colonel of the 8th or Hoya infantry; in 1819 colonel of the 4th or Celle infantry; in 1834 lieutenant-general and commander of the 4th infantry brigade; in 1836 commander of a division; in 1848 general and inspector-general of Hanoverian infantry. He was sent to Osnabrück in 1839, when disturbances were feared in consequence of certain constitutional changes. His tact and popularity rendered repressive measures unnecessary. He was put in command of the 10th army corps of the German confederation assembled for autumn manœuvres near Lüneburg in 1843, and in 1848 commanded the same army corps in the Schleswig-Holstein war, under Von Wrangel (Ann. Reg. 1848, pp. 340–52; Sichart, Tagesbuch 10. Bundes Armee-Corps im Jahre 1848, Berlin, 1851; Allg. deutsche Biogr.) Ten years later Halkett sought leave to retire. On the anniversary of Waterloo in 1858 the Hanoverian chambers voted him a life pension equal to the full pay of his rank. He was also made a baron.

Halkett was a C.B. and G.C.H.; he had the decorations of the Prussian Black Eagle and St. Anne of Russia, both of the first class, in brilliants; the Prussian order of Military Merit, the Danish Dannebrög, the Sword of Sweden, and other orders, together with the Spanish gold cross for Albuera, the British gold medal with clasps for Albuera and Salamanca, the Peninsular, Waterloo, and Hanoverian war medals. Halkett is described as a bright, active, cheery little man, very popular with all ranks, speaking German very badly with an English accent. He married, 25 May 1810, Emily Charlotte, daughter of Sir James Bland Burges, afterwards Lamb [see Burges], and Anne de Montoleiu his second wife, and by her had a large family. Three of his sons were officers in the British army (see Burke, Landed Gentry). Halkett died at Hanover after a long illness on 26 July 1863.

[Burke's Landed Gentry, 1886 ed., under ‘Craigie-Halkett;’ British Army Lists; N. L. Beamish's Hist. King's German Legion, 2 vols. 1832, and the records quoted marginally therein, which are now preserved among the state archives at Hanover, except the regimental muster-rolls and pay-lists in the Public Record Office, London; Napier's Hist. Peninsular War; E. von dem Knesebeck's Leben des Freiherrn von Halkett, Stuttgart, 1865; biography by Poten in Allg. deutsche Biogr. vol. x.; Hof und Staats Handbuch für Hannover, 1864, necrology; Rev. Chas. Allix Wilkinson's Reminiscences of the Court of King Ernest I of Hanover, 1886, ii. 83–5.]

H. M. C.