Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Picton, Thomas
PICTON, Sir THOMAS (1758–1815), lieutenant-general, younger son of Thomas Picton, esq., of Poyston, Pembrokeshire, was born in August 1758 at Poyston. On 14 Nov. 1771 he was gazetted an ensign in the 12th regiment of foot, then commanded by his uncle, Lieutenant-colonel William Picton, a distinguished officer, who, when commanding the grenadier company of the 12th foot in Germany during the seven years' war, was thanked in army orders by Prince Ferdinand for his behaviour at the affair of Zierenberg. For nearly two years after obtaining his commission, Picton continued his studies at a military academy kept by Lochée, a Frenchman, in Little Chelsea; he then joined his regiment at Gibraltar, where he employed the leisure of a garrison life in learning Spanish and studying professional works, with the assistance of his uncle.
In March 1777 Picton was promoted to be a lieutenant in the 12th regiment. After three years of inactive service at Gibraltar, Picton pressed his uncle to get him exchanged into a regiment more likely to see service. On 26 Jan. 1778 Picton was accordingly promoted captain into the 75th or Prince of Wales's regiment of foot, and returned to England. A few months later began the memorable siege of Gibraltar, in which his late regiment bore a distinguished part.
During the succeeding five years Picton did duty with his regiment in various provincial towns and home garrisons. On the sudden reduction of the army in 1783, the 75th regiment, then quartered at Bristol, was ordered to be disbanded. After Picton, as the senior officer with the regiment, had paraded his men and read the orders for disbandment, the soldiers became mutinous and riotous. Serious danger was anticipated in the town. But Picton rushed into the midst of the tumult, singled out the most active of the mutineers, and dragged him away; some non-commissioned officers who had followed their captain made him a prisoner. This prompt action and a few stern words from Picton quelled the strife. His spirited conduct was made known to the king, who directed that the royal approbation should be communicated to him. This was conveyed by Conway, the commander-in-chief, with a promise, which was not fulfilled, of the first vacant majority.
Picton was placed upon half-pay, and went to the family place in Pembrokeshire, where for twelve years he remained in obscurity, enjoying field sports, studying the classics, and reading professional books. Despite his numerous applications, no offer of employment came, and, when hostilities with France broke out, he determined to take action himself.
Towards the end of 1794, without any appointment, Picton embarked for the West Indies, on the strength of a slight acquaintance with Sir John Vaughan, who had recently gone thither as commander-in-chief. Vaughan at once appointed Picton to the 17th regiment of foot, and made him an extra aide-de-camp to himself. Picton, now for the first time on active service, so satisfied his general that the latter obtained promotion for him to a majority in the 68th foot, and appointed him deputy quartermaster-general to the force, with temporary rank of lieutenant-colonel. Vaughan died in Martinique in August 1795, and Picton was superseded by Major-general Knox. The new commander-in-chief, Sir Ralph Abercromby [q. v.], who had known Picton's uncle, induced him to remain as an extra aide-de-camp.
The first act of the campaign was an attack upon the French in the island of St. Lucia. Seventeen hundred men, under Major-general Campbell, were landed off Longville Bay, St. Lucia, in the evening of 26 April 1796. The island was captured by 24 May, after a well-contested struggle. In the whole of the difficult operations Picton bore a distinguished part, and Abercromby recommended him for the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 56th regiment of foot; his commission was antedated from 22 June 1795.
Picton next accompanied Abercromby to the attack on the island of St. Vincent, which fell to the British on 10 June, three days after their landing. Thence he went with Abercromby to Martinique, and sailed with him in the Arethusa for England. He returned with him to Martinique near the end of January 1797, and was present at the surrender of Trinidad by the Spaniards on 17 Feb. Abercromby appointed Picton, who was proficient in Spanish, commandant and military governor, with instructions to administer Spanish law as well as he could, and do justice according to his conscience.
Picton applied himself to remedy the civil disorder and corruption prevailing in the island, but was hampered by the smallness of the force at his disposal, the garrison consisting of but five hundred effective men, of whom only three hundred were British. By making an early example of mutineers among the coloured troops, he succeeded in enforcing discipline. He established a system of police, not only in Port of Spain, but over the island. The roads, which were nearly impracticable, he made the finest in the West Indies, and he established trade with the neighbouring continent. At the end of six months he reported that perfect tranquillity prevailed throughout the colony, and that all classes of the inhabitants acknowledged the benefits of British rule. After revisiting the island in June 1797, Abercromby expressed his entire and complete approbation of Picton's administration.
In the autumn of 1797 Picton overcame an attempt at rebellion among the coloured inhabitants at the instigation of refugees who had collected on the opposite coast of Venezuela. In January 1798 he received the thanks of the king, and an intimation from Henry Dundas that his salary had been fixed at 1,200l. per annum. In the beginning of 1799, Admiral Harvey, then commanding the fleet in the West Indies, sent, in accordance with Picton's suggestions to the home government, some small cruisers to protect the trade which Picton had established with the continent. They destroyed the batteries which had been erected to intercept the traffic up some of the rivers. The governors of Caraccas and Guiana, fearful of Picton's influence, each offered a reward of twenty thousand dollars for his head. Picton wrote to each a humorous letter, regretting that his head was not better worth the amount.
While the peace of 1801 was under consideration, the Spanish inhabitants, in a letter to Picton, deprecated the transfer of the island to Spain, and it was mainly due to Picton's despatches on the subject to Dundas and to Abercromby that, when peace was declared, Trinidad remained a British possession. At the end of 1799 Picton's salary was increased by 1,200l. per annum; and a malicious charge that he had, for his own advantage and to the injury of the British shipowner, exported the produce of the colony in foreign vessels, was clearly disproved by documentary evidence. His able administration of affairs led to his appointment in June 1801 to the civil government of the island, with such judicial powers as were formerly exercised by the Spanish governor. On 22 Oct. 1801 Picton was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general.
Picton made some enemies by the vigour of his rule, and his conduct was impugned at home on alleged humanitarian grounds. Colonel William Fullarton [q. v.], of the Indian army, seems to have led the attack on Picton, and, on Addington's accession to office, his view was adopted by the government. Accordingly, Addington informed Picton on 9 July 1802 that the island was to be henceforth under the control of three commissioners, of whom Fullarton was to be the first, Captain Samuel (afterwards Sir Samuel) Hood [q. v.] the second, and himself the third. Picton was indignant, but his sense of duty induced him to await the arrival of the other commissioners before tendering his resignation. Fullarton arrived at Trinidad on 4 Jan. 1803, and was hospitably received by Picton; but within a month he moved in council for certified statements of all the criminal proceedings which had taken place since the island became British territory. On the arrival of Hood, the second commissioner, Picton tendered to the government his resignation, remaining at his post until its acceptance was notified. On 23 April the inhabitants presented him with an address; and a sword of honour, purchased in England at their expense, was subsequently presented to him by the Duke of York. They also petitioned the king to reject Picton's resignation. Meanwhile, Fullarton pursued his investigations into Picton's administration so offensively that Hood resigned the second commissionership. On 31 May 1803 Picton learned that his resignation had been accepted, and on 11 June he was superseded in the military command by Brigadier-general Frederick Maitland [q. v.]
On Picton's arrival in Carlisle Bay, Barbados, Lieutenant-general Grinfield, the commander-in-chief in the West Indies, readily availed himself of his offer to join the expedition which was about to sail to recapture St. Lucia and Tobago from the French. At daylight on 21 June 1803 the expedition, under Grinfield and Commodore Hood, arrived off the north end of the island of St. Lucia, and in the course of the day the greater part of the troops were disembarked in Choc Bay. The town of Castries was at once taken; and, on the morning of the 22nd the Morne Fortuné was carried by storm and the island unconditionally restored to the British government. Picton commanded the reserves. After securing possession, the troops re-embarked, and on 30 June the expedition arrived off Tobago. The troops were landed, and the advanced column, under Picton, pushed on without delay. The French general (Berthier), apprised of the strength of the British force and of the capture of St. Lucia, agreed to capitulate. The advance of the first column, under Picton, was especially commended in general orders, and Grinfield appointed him commandant of Tobago.
Within a few weeks Picton learned that Fullarton had left Trinidad for England, after preferring against him before the council of Trinidad thirty-six criminal processes which affected his honour and humanity. He also learned that horrible tales of cruelty were being circulated in England concerning him, and that the public were exasperated against ‘the cruel governor who had been guilty of such excesses.’ Picton straightway proceeded to England, where he arrived in October. In December 1803 he was arrested by order of the privy council, and was confined in the house of Mr. Sparrow upon the oaths and depositions of Luise Calderon and three other persons of infamous character in Trinidad. He was bailed by his uncle in the enormous security of 40,000l. The indictment charged him with the unlawful application of torture to extort confession from Luise Calderon respecting a robbery. The woman was of loose character, and, with her paramour, had robbed her master. There was no doubt of their guilt, but the woman refused to give evidence. In accordance with Spanish law, which was at the time the law of the colony, the alcalde desired to have recourse to the ‘picket,’ and the permission of the governor was obtained as a matter of routine. The ‘picket’ consisted in making the prisoner stand on one leg on a flat-headed picket for any time not exceeding an hour. The woman under this punishment confessed; the man was convicted and punished; the woman was released in consideration of the imprisonment she had already undergone. After a delay of more than two years Picton's trial took place in the court of king's bench, before Lord Ellenborough, on 24 Feb. 1806. A technical verdict of guilty was returned. On 26 April a new trial was moved for. In the meantime many other charges brought by Fullarton against him had been under investigation by the privy council, and in January 1807 they reported that ‘there was no foundation whatever for further proceedings in any of them.’ In February 1808 Fullarton died, and on 11 June Picton's second trial came on again before Lord Ellenborough and a special jury. A special verdict was returned, ‘That by the law of Spain torture existed in the island of Trinidad at the time of the cession to Great Britain, and that no malice existed in the mind of the defendant against Luise Calderon independent of the illegality of the act.’ An argument on this special verdict was heard on 10 Feb. 1810, when the court ordered the defendants' recognisances to be respited until they should further order. This practically ended the case, as no judgment was ever delivered. Picton's defence was that he had to administer the laws of the island as they existed at the time of the capitulation; that he looked to the judge appointed to administer those laws to state what the law was; that if Luise Calderon had been tried by English laws she would have been hanged for stealing from a dwelling-house above the value of forty shillings. While the idea of torture was repugnant to English feelings, this particular form of punishment was not severe, and was at one time resorted to in the English army for minor offences.
The people of Trinidad subscribed 4,000l. towards Picton's legal expenses. But when shortly afterwards a disastrous fire in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad, rendered many of the poorer inhabitants destitute, Picton, who warmly appreciated the loyalty of his former subjects, sent the whole amount to the island for the relief of the sufferers by the fire. Similarly, the old Duke of Queensberry offered, although a stranger, to assist Picton in his legal expenses with any sum up to 10,000l. Picton declined the offer, as his uncle supplied him with the necessary funds. When he went to the Peninsular war, Queensberry again sent for him, and begged him to write regularly to him, which he did as long as the duke lived.
On 25 April 1808 Picton was promoted major-general. During the four years in which he had been fighting in the law courts he had not been unmindful of his profession. He had addressed a letter to Addington on organisation for home defence, which contained many valuable suggestions which might well be adopted in the present day. In July 1809 he was appointed by the Duke of York to the staff of the Earl of Chatham in the expedition to Flushing. Picton embarked at the end of the month with the army in the fleet commanded by Sir Richard Strachan. He took part in the siege and capture of Flushing, and was appointed commandant of Flushing and the neighbouring country with a force of four regiments. After the departure of Lord Chatham with the greater part of the troops for England, on 14 Sept., Picton was appointed governor of Flushing, but was attacked by the epidemic fever, and was invalided home. He went first to Cheltenham, and then to Bath, where, in January 1810, he received orders to join the army in Portugal.
On Picton's arrival in Portugal he was placed in command of the third division, near Celerico. This division consisted of Colonel Mackinnon's brigade—viz. 1st battalion of the 45th foot, the 74th foot, and the 1st battalion of the 88th foot—and Major-general Lightburne's brigade, viz. the 5th foot, the 2nd battalion of the 58th foot, the 2nd battalion of the 83rd foot, and the 5th battalion of the 60th regiment. The army numbered under twenty-four thousand men. The first division was stationed at Viseu, the second at Abrantes, the fourth at Guarda, the light division at Pinhel, and the cavalry along the bank of the river Mondego. Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida had been placed in an efficient state of defence, and the lines of Torres Vedras were in an advanced state of progress. Wellington's object at this time was to avoid a general engagement with the greatly superior army of Masséna, but to retard its advance and exhaust its resources before drawing it into the snare he had been long and skilfully preparing. The confidence of the British troops was maintained by the daring manœuvres of Crawfurd and the light division.
On Crawfurd's advance to the Agueda, Picton was directed to move to Pinhel to support him if necessary, but to avoid an action if possible. After the fall of Ciudad Rodrigo on 10 July, Crawfurd fought the battle of the Coa on the 24th. Napier the historian blamed Picton for not bringing up the third division to the support of Crawfurd; but it is very doubtful whether Crawfurd asked Picton to come to his aid, or whether Picton knew of the engagement in time to do so; and, even if he had known of it in time to be of use, he deserved credit rather than blame for the moral courage he displayed in keeping in mind at such a time Wellington's general strategy and his instructions to avoid, if possible, a general action. After the battle of the Coa the French advanced on 27 July to Pinhel, and Picton fell back to Carapichina. After the fall of Almeida, which, like Ciudad Rodrigo and in accordance with Wellington's policy, it was not attempted to succour, Masséna prepared to enter Portugal. Wellington made his dispositions accordingly, and Picton and the third division were posted at Laurosa; but, in the middle of September, Masséna changed his plans, suddenly concentrated his whole army, and marched rapidly along the right bank of the Mondego to secure Coimbra before he could be opposed by the allies. Wellington retired by the left bank, and, throwing his army across the river, took up a position, on 20 Sept. 1810, in rear of the Busaco ridge. Picton was posted to defend the ridge from San Antonio de Cantara to the hill of Busaco, about a mile and a half in extent, with General Leith's corps on his right and Sir Brent Spencer's division on his left. On 25 Sept. Picton, in obedience to orders, had detached Major-general Lightburne's brigade to reinforce the first division (Spencer's), and his force was in consequence reduced to three British and two Portuguese regiments. On the evening of the 26th Picton detached the strongest regiment of the division (the 88th) nearly a mile to the left to keep touch with the first division and observe that part of the line which was not occupied by any troops. The French attack commenced before daylight on the 27th, and was mainly directed on the pass of San Antonio, where Picton was. Fourteen guns opened on the pass, and a large column attempted to force it; but so incessant and destructive a fire was maintained by the third division that the French were ultimately compelled to abandon the attempt. In the meantime a heavy column of the enemy penetrated on the left of Picton's position, close to the hill of Busacos, where were the 88th regiment and four companies of the 45th regiment. With the assistance of a Portuguese regiment, which opportunely arrived, he succeeded in driving the enemy across the ravine in great disorder. The enemy having been foiled at all points, the battle was won by the allies, who on 29 Sept. took up a position to cover Coimbra. On 1 Oct. the French attacked this position, driving in the British outpost. A retreat was ordered, and by 7 Oct. the allied army had retired behind the lines of Torres Vedras, where they went into winter quarters.
Picton and the third division had to defend the lines extending from Spencer's division on the right, by the village of Pantaneira, across a kind of ravine, to the fourth division (Cole's) on the left. The allies were now occupying an impregnable position behind two lines of defence, whence they could watch the enemy's movements and defy his attacks. They were in a friendly country, with Lisbon in their rear and a British fleet lying in the Tagus, where ample supplies of corn and ammunition were constantly arriving from England. On the other hand, Masséna, with an army twice as strong as that of the allies, had fallen into the trap, and had only discovered it on his arrival at Torres Vedras. Picton wrote in November that Masséna was probably waiting for reinforcements. The French made several demonstrations during the winter, but no serious attempt on the lines of the allies, and on 4 March 1811 their retreat commenced. On the 6th the allies were after them, and Picton's division bore the chief part in the pursuit. On the 11th this division came up with the enemy's rearguard near Pombal, and for the following seventeen days almost incessantly harassed the enemy's left. Finally, on 29 March, the French were dislodged from a position which they had taken on the height of Guarda, the strongest and most defensible ground Picton had ever seen. The most important part of the day's action fell to Picton, whose exertions throughout this pursuit were indefatigable. Awake before daylight, he prepared his division to move as soon as there was light enough to see the track. Constantly at its head, encouraging and directing it, he was within sight of every man in his division.
Masséna having laid waste the country in his retreat, the pursuit had to be relaxed on account of the difficulty of obtaining provisions. By 5 April 1811 the whole of Portugal, with the exception of Almeida, had been freed from French troops at the point of the bayonet, and the allied army invested Almeida. On 2 May Masséna advanced on Almeida. The battle of Fuentes d'Onoro followed on the 5th, when the principal share in the fighting once more fell to Picton's division. The French were defeated, and the allies entered Almeida.
Masséna was recalled, and Marmont succeeded to the command of the French. Wellington went to Badajos, which was besieged by Beresford, directing Picton's and the seventh divisions to follow. On 24 May Picton arrived at Campo Major, and on the 27th, crossing the Guadiana, he took up his position on its left bank for the investment of Badajos, the seventh division being established on the right bank, and Beresford employed in watching Soult. After five weeks of unceasing effort, with inadequate means, and two unsuccessful assaults, the siege was raised. In concluding his account of the siege in his despatch, Wellington expressed his indebtedness to Picton. On 10 June the allied army took up a defensive line on the right bank of the Guadiana, behind the fortresses of Elvas and Campo Major.
At the end of July Picton moved his division in the direction of Ciudad Rodrigo, and in August that place was closely invested by the allies with a view to blockade. On 25 Sept. Picton's right flank was closely pressed by Montbrun at the head of fifteen squadrons of cavalry and one battery of artillery, who made demonstrations of attack with a view to engage Picton's attention until the arrival of the French infantry and artillery; but Picton saw the critical situation, and that nothing but a rapid and regular movement upon Guinaldo could save his division from being cut off, and for six miles he led the third division across a level plain, harassed by the enemy's cavalry and artillery. To save his infantry from being annihilated by the charges of the enemy's cavalry, each battalion had in its turn to form the rearguard and keep back the cavalry by a volley, then fall back at double time behind the battalion which had formed in its rear. The division was saved by its own discipline and the firmness of Picton, who refused to form squares, and determined to continue his march. On 15 Oct. 1811 Picton was appointed colonel of the 77th or Middlesex regiment.
Marmont retired to Spain, and the allied army went into cantonments, Picton's division occupying Aldea de Ponte. In October Picton's uncle, General William Picton, died and left him his fortune. Early in January 1812 Picton was sent to the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo. On the 14th the 1st battery opened fire, and on the evening of the 19th Picton's division assaulted the right or great breach, while Crawfurd's division stormed the left or smaller breach. Both assaults were successful. Wellington, in his despatch, observed that ‘the conduct of the third division in the operations which they performed with so much gallantry and exactness on the evening of the 19th, in the dark, affords the strongest proof of the abilities of Lieutenant-general Picton and Major-general Mackinnon, by whom they were directed and led.’
In March 1812 Badajos was invested, and Picton was entrusted with the conduct of the siege. The assault was made on 6 April. The third division, which stormed the castle, was led in person by Picton, who was wounded. As he lay disabled in the ditch, he continued to urge on his men until the castle was taken. Subsequently, Picton expressed the warmest admiration of the conduct of his men. He sent his aide-de-camp, Captain Tyler, to report the capture of the place to Wellington, who directed Picton to hold the castle at all hazards. The last effort of the enemy was an attack upon the castle, which Picton's men repulsed with great slaughter. Picton's wound laid him up during the shameless sack of the place which tarnished the heroism of that awful night. A few days later Picton gave a guinea to each survivor in his division as a mark of his approval. Lord Liverpool, in the debate in the House of Lords of 27 April 1812, observed: ‘The conduct of General Picton has inspired a confidence in the army and exhibited an example of science and bravery which have been surpassed by no other officer. His exertions in the attack on the 6th cannot fail to excite the most lively feelings of admiration.’ Picton went to Salamanca with his division, but was too ill with fever to take part either in the attack on the forts or in the battle of Salamanca; and in August, after he had entered Madrid with Wellington, he was invalided to England, where a sojourn at Cheltenham restored his health.
Early in the spring of 1813 Picton returned to the Peninsula, having been received before his departure by the prince regent, who on 1 Feb. invested him with the collar and badge of a knight of the Bath at Carlton House. Picton's division now consisted of the right brigade, commanded by Major-general Brisbane, composed of the 1st battalions of the 45th regiment, the 74th regiment, the 1st battalion of the 88th regiment, and three companies of the 5th battalion of the 60th regiment; the centre brigade, of which he took the command himself, composed of the 1st battalion 5th regiment, 2nd battalion 83rd regiment, 2nd battalion 87th regiment, and the 94th regiment; and the left brigade, commanded by Major-general Power, and composed of three Portuguese regiments. From 6 Sept. 1811 Picton had held only local rank as lieutenant-general, but on 4 June 1813 he was promoted lieutenant-general in the army.
On 16 May 1813 the allied army, nearly one hundred thousand strong, was again in motion. Picton crossed the Douro on 18 May, and on 15 June the Ebro. On 21 June the French, numbering some sixty-five thousand men, held a strong position in front of Vittoria, their left resting on an elevated chain of craggy mountains, and their right on a rapid river. The battle began early in the morning, between the enemy's left and the British right. At noon Picton was directed to force the passage of the river and carry the heights in the centre, a manœuvre which was so rapidly executed that he was in possession of the commanding ground before the enemy were aware of his design. They soon attempted, with greatly superior numbers, to dislodge him, and with some success, as his right flank was not covered by any other troops. The check, however, was only temporary, and as soon as troops arrived to protect his exposed flank, Picton rapidly pushed the enemy from his positions, forced him to abandon his guns, and drove him in confusion beyond the city of Vittoria, until darkness intervened to protect his disorderly flight. The third division was the most severely and permanently engaged of any part of the allied army, and sustained a loss of nearly eighteen hundred men in killed and wounded, which was more than a third of the total loss of the army in this battle. Picton's division then moved slowly towards Pamplona, whence the enemy retreated over the Pyrenees. He was soon engaged in the pursuit of another French corps towards Saragossa, and returned to the siege of Pamplona. During these operations his division was on the march for thirty-four days, and for several days along roads up to their knees in mud.
On 24 July Soult concentrated his troops for the relief of Pamplona. The allies occupied a strong position in the passes of the Pyrenees, Picton and the third division being at Olaque in reserve. Soult attacked on the 25th, and succeeded in pushing back the British at several of the passes. The several columns, however, concentrated under Sir Lowry Cole near Lizoain. Picton at once marched his division there, and, being the senior officer on the spot, assumed command. He fell back, and took up a strong position about four miles from Pamplona. On the 27th Wellington arrived from San Sebastian, and fully approved Picton's dispositions. The allied army concentrated at this position, and the attacks of Soult on the 27th and 28th were repulsed. On 30 July the French moved towards the mountains on the right of the river Lanz. Picton crossed the ridge abandoned by the French, and, marching along the Roncesvalles road, successfully turned the enemy's flank, and, after a sharp but short conflict, drove them from their position. Soult retreated, and a short period of inactivity followed. San Sebastian fell on 31 Aug., and Picton was left to cover the blockade of Pamplona.
There being no apparent probability of early operations, Picton went to England on leave of absence, and took his seat in the House of Commons as member for Carmarthen, for which he had been returned at the last election. On 11 Nov. the speaker, in accordance with a resolution of the house, addressed Picton in terms of high encomium; and, in the name and by the command of the commons, delivered their unanimous thanks to him for his great exertions at Vittoria on 21 June, and in repelling the repeated attacks made on the positions of the allied army by the whole French forces under Soult between 25 July and 1 Aug. 1813.
In December Picton again joined the army of the Peninsula. He had, after consulting with Wellington, declined the command of the Catalonian army, and he resumed command of the third division. During his absence in England his division had won fresh laurels. The Bidassoa had been forced, Pamplona had fallen, the Nivelle had been crossed and the allied army had poured down into the plains of France, the battles of the Nivelle and Nive had been fought, and Soult had taken up a strong position round Bayonne. Picton was posted with his division in the vicinity of Hasparren, where the advanced posts of the enemy could be observed. With the exception of an affair on 6 Jan. 1814, in which Picton's division was employed to drive an advance of the French back upon their main body, there was no movement of importance until the middle of February.
Wellington having crossed the Adour and invested Bayonne, Soult withdrew his army towards Orthez, followed by the allied army. Picton and the third division had some fighting at Sauveterre, and succeeded in effecting the passage of the Bédous, the Petit Gave, and the Gave d'Oloron, at points where the enemy did not expect him. On 26 Feb., at four p.m., Picton forded the Gave de Pau, drove in the enemy's advanced posts, and took up a position within four miles of Soult's army, which was concentrated in a strong mountainous position, in front of the town of Orthez, in the Gave de Pau. The other divisions crossed the river during the night, and on the 27th Wellington attacked. Picton directed his division against the centre and left flank of the French, and after several hours' fighting he succeeded in turning the left flank of the enemy, and in forcing his centre back. Soult covered his retreat with large masses of infantry, and fell back for some time in good order, but as he became more pressed towards evening the retreat became a rout.
The allied army, delayed by swollen rivers and demolished bridges, followed Soult slowly towards Toulouse. Picton's division was on the right, and on the morning of 19 March it attacked a large body of the enemy occupying a strong position at Vic Bigorre, with the result that Picton drove the French before him and encamped the same evening three miles beyond the town. On the following day a general movement was made by the allies on the whole of the French line, Picton's division and the fourth division moving on Tarbes, while three other divisions advanced on Rabastens. Tarbes was quickly occupied, and the enemy forced to cross the river and ascend the heights in its rear. The allies bivouacked upon the ground which they had won, and on the morning of the 21st found that Soult, under cover of the night, had fallen back on Toulouse.
On 29 March Picton halted his division at Plaisance, about five miles from Toulouse. By 4 April a bridge was thrown across the Garonne, and the third, fourth, sixth, and light divisions had crossed. When night set in a storm of wind and rain caused such a swell in the river that, to save the pontoons, it was necessary to remove them and dismantle the bridge. The allied army was thus divided by a wide and impassable river, and Picton, as senior, was in command of the force which had crossed. It was not until the 8th that the remainder of the army was able to join him. Soult had neglected to seize the opportunity of this accident, and on the 9th Wellington made his dispositions for attack, Picton taking up his position with the third division on the lower part of the canal, with orders to threaten the tête de pont. On 10 April (Easter Day) 1814 the battle of Toulouse was fought with desperate valour and great carnage on both sides. The victorious allies entered Toulouse on the 13th, Soult having evacuated the city on the previous evening. The news of the abdication of Napoleon arrived, and an armistice was agreed upon.
On the break up of the third division the officers subscribed 1,600l. to present Picton with a service of plate. Peerages were conferred on Sir William Beresford, Sir Thomas Graham, Sir Rowland Hill, Sir John Hope, and Sir Stapleton Cotton, and Picton and his friends were much disappointed that he, who was second to none of these officers, was left unrewarded. Picton observed: ‘If the coronet were lying on the crown of a breach, I should have as good a chance as any of them.’ Some correspondence took place in the newspapers, and it was stated that these honours had only been bestowed on those officers who had held ‘distinct’ commands. On 24 June 1814 Picton was somewhat solaced in his disappointment by receiving, for the seventh time, the unanimous thanks of the House of Commons, delivered to him personally by the speaker. Picton retired to his place in Wales, and devoted himself to the improvement of his estate. Upon the extension of the order of the Bath, at the commencement of 1815, Picton was promoted to be a knight grand cross.
When Napoleon escaped from Elba, Picton was called upon to join Wellington in the Netherlands. He hesitated, until he had the duke's assurance that he should be employed immediately under his own orders. On 11 June 1815 he left London, and the same day was entertained at Canterbury at dinner by the inhabitants. He had a strong presentiment that this campaign would be his last. He arrived at Ostend, where he held a levée, on the 13th, and at Brussels on the 15th.
He was appointed to the command of the fifth division and the reserve—about ten thousand men. Before daybreak on the 16th the fifth division marched to the support of the army of the Netherlands, and Picton himself left Brussels with Wellington immediately after daylight. He was just in time, by pushing his division forward, to support the Belgians, and had no sooner taken up his position in the afternoon than he was engaged in a fierce fight with Ney's columns at Quatre Bras. After repulsing the French infantry he had barely time to form squares when the French cavalry were upon him. Another furious onset was made by the French lancers, which was also repulsed; and then Picton, seeing that the enemy were giving way, himself led his men to the charge. The French cavalry were in superior numbers both before and behind him; but, despising the force in his rear, he charged and routed those in front, which created such a panic among the others that they galloped back through the intervals in his division, seeking only their own safety. During the fight Picton was hit by a ball, which broke his ribs; but, determined to lead his division to the end, he kept the knowledge of the wound from all but his servant, who assisted him to bind it up. At night the allies were left in undisturbed possession of the field, where they lay down to sleep among the wounded and the dead. On the morning of the 17th June, in consequence of the defeat of the Prussians at Ligny, Picton fell back on Waterloo, and by night the allied army was formed up on the plains of Waterloo, and slept on their arms.
On the morning of the 18th Picton's wound had assumed a serious aspect, but not a word escaped him. He posted his division on the Wavre road, behind the broken hedge between La Haye Sainte and Ter la Haye. Attacked by heavy masses of French infantry, a desperate struggle ensued; and Picton, bringing up his second brigade, placed himself at its head, and, waving them on with his sword, cried: ‘Charge! Hurrah! hurrah!’ At this moment a ball struck him on the temple, and he fell back dead. Captain Tyler, his aide-de-camp, placed his body beneath a tree, where he could readily find it when the battle was over, and rejoined the division.
Picton's remains were conveyed to Deal, where they were landed with every demonstration of public mourning. At Canterbury the body lay in the room of the Fountain Inn, where a fortnight before Picton had been entertained by his friends. The funeral took place from his house, 21 Edward Street, Portman Square, on 3 July, and he was buried in the family vault in the burial-ground of St. George's, Hanover Square, in the Bayswater Road.
In accordance with a resolution of the House of Commons, a public monument was erected to Picton's memory in the west side of the north transept of St. Paul's Cathedral. The monument, which is by Sebastian Gahagan, has a bust of Picton on the summit of a marble column, with an emblematic group representing, fame, genius, and courage. In 1828 a costly monument was erected to Picton's memory at Carmarthen by public subscription, the king contributing one hundred guineas. Thomas Moore, the poet, wrote in Picton's honour the poem commencing ‘Oh, give to the hero the death of the brave.’ A portrait of Picton, painted by Sir M. A. Shee, is in the National Portrait Gallery; another, by Sir William Beechey, belongs to the Duke of Wellington.
In private life Picton was warm in his friendships but strong in his enmities. He had a very strict sense of honour, which would not brook the petty deceptions of society. His manners were brusque, and his speech blunt and without respect of persons. He was a capable administrator. As a soldier, he was a stern disciplinarian, cold in manner, calm in judgment, yet when excited overwhelmed with passion. With the foresight of a born commander, possessing considerable power of combination, strong nerve, and undaunted courage, he proved himself Wellington's right hand in the Peninsula.[Despatches; Robinson's Memoirs of Lieutenant-general Sir Thomas Picton, G.C.B., &c., 2 vols. 8vo, London, 1836; Napier's History of the War in the Peninsula and the South of France, from 1807 to 1814, 6 vols. 8vo; Napier's English Battles and Sieges in the Peninsula, 8vo; Lord Londonderry's Narrative of the War, 4to, London, 1830; Batty's Campaign in the Western Pyrenees and South of France in 1813–14, 4to, London, 1823; History of British Campaigns in Spain and Portugal, 4 vols. 8vo, 1812; Foy's Histoire de la Guerre de la Péninsule, 4 vols. 8vo, Paris, 1827; Jones's Sieges in Spain between 1811 and 1814, 3 vols. 8vo, London, 1846; Jones's Wars in Spain, 2 vols. 8vo, London, 1818; Southey's History of the Peninsular War, 3 vols. 4to, London, 1823–32; Suchet's Mémoires sur les Campagnes en Espagne depuis 1808 jusqu'à 1814, 2 vols. Paris, 1828; The Battle of Waterloo, also of Ligny and Quatre Bras, by a Near Observer, 2 vols. 8vo London, 1817; Siborne's History of the Waterloo Campaign, 1815, with Details of Battles of Quatre Bras, Ligny, Wavre, and Waterloo, 8vo, London.]