Ponsonby, William (1772-1815) (DNB00)

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PONSONBY, Sir WILLIAM (1772–1815), major-general, born in 1772, was the second son of William Brabazon Ponsonby, first baron Ponsonby [q. v.], by the Hon. Louisa Molesworth, fourth daughter of the third Viscount Molesworth. John, first viscount Ponsonby [q. v.], was his eldest brother. Sir William was second cousin of Sir Frederic Cavendish Ponsonby [q. v.], both being great-grandsons of the first Earl of Bessborough. After serving for a year and a half as ensign and lieutenant in the independent companies of Captain Bulwer and Captain Davis, he obtained a company in the 83rd foot in September 1794, and on 15 Dec. of that year became major in the loyal Irish fencibles. On 1 March 1798 he was transferred to the 5th dragoon guards, and obtained the command of that regiment on 24 Feb. 1803, having become lieutenant-colonel in the army on 1 Jan. 1800. He became colonel on 25 July 1810. Up to this time he had seen no foreign service, but in 1811 he went to Spain with his regiment, which formed part of Le Marchant's brigade. His was the leading regiment of that brigade in the affair at Llerena on 11 April 1812 [see Ponsonby, Sir Frederic Cavendish], and he won the commendation of Sir Stapleton Cotton. At Salamanca he took part at the head of his regiment in the charge of the brigade which broke up the French left and took two thousand prisoners, and after the fall of General Le Marchant in that charge he succeeded to the command of the brigade. He was definitively appointed to this command three days afterwards, 25 July 1812, and he led the brigade at Vittoria. He was promoted major-general on 4 June 1813, and on 2 Jan. 1815 he was made K.C.B. In the campaign of 1815 he was given command of the Union brigade of heavy cavalry (Royals, Scots Greys, and Inniskillings), and led it at Waterloo in the famous charge on d'Erlon's shattered corps. Lord Anglesey's order was that the Royals and Inniskillings should charge and the Greys should support, but the latter came up into front line before the other regiments were half way down the slope. The French columns broke up, and two thousand prisoners were taken. Sir De Lacy Evans, who was acting as extra A.D.C. to Ponsonby, says: 'The enemy fled as a flock of sheep across the valley, quite at the mercy of the dragoons. In fact our men were out of hand. The general of the brigade, his staff, and every officer within hearing exerted themselves to the utmost to re-form the men; but the helplessness of the enemy offered too great a temptation to the dragoons, and our efforts were abortive.' They mounted the ridge on which the French artillery were drawn up, and, meeting two batteries which had moved forward, sabred the gunners and overturned the guns. The household cavalry brigade, which had charged at the same time on the right, became to some extent intermixed with the Union brigade. Napoleon, seeing the situation, sent two regiments of cuirassiers to fall on the front and flank of the disordered cavalry, and they were joined by a regiment of Poplish lancers. 'Every one,' says Evans, 'saw what must happen. Those whose horses were best, or least blown, got away. Some attempted to escape back to our position by going round the left of the French lancers. Sir William Ponsonby was of that number' (Waterloo Letters. p. 61). He might have escaped if he had been better mounted, but the groom with his chestnut charger could not be found at the moment of the charge, and he was riding a small bay hack which soon stuck fast in the heavy ground. Seeing he must be overtaken, he was handing over his watch and a miniature to his brigade-major to deliver to his family, when the French lancers came up and killed them both on the spot. He was buried at Kensington, in the vault of the Molesworth family, and a national monument was erected to him in St. Paul's. The Duke of Wellington, in his report of the battle, expressed his 'grief for the fate of an officer who had already rendered very brilliant and important services, and was an ornament to his profession.'

Ponsonby married, 20 Jan. 1807 the Hon. Georgiana Fitzroy, sixth daughter of the first daughter of the first Lord Southampton. and he left one son. William, who succeeded his uncle John Ponsonby as third Baron Ponsonby—a title now extinct—and four daughters.

[Gent. Mag. 1815; Burke's Extinct Peerages; Records of the 5th Dragoon Guards; Siborne's Waterloo Papers; Statement of Service in Public Records Office.]

E. M. L.