Sir Colin Campbell:
The Hero of the Queen
This famous Scot was born in Glasgow on the 20th of October 1792: he was not a Campbell by his father's side, but a Macliver: and though his father was a carpenter, yet Colin Macliver was an aristocrat by birth. His splendid fight for recognition and promotion is one of the proofs of the value of hereditary qualities.
Colin's grandfather, the Laird of Ardnave, in the island of Islay, west of the Clyde, had forfeited his estate by taking part in the Forty-five rebellion: thus the Maclivers had come down in the world. His mother, Agnes Campbell, was a daughter of a respectable family who had settled in Islay two centuries ago with their chief, the ancestor of the Earls of Cawdor.
Colin was the eldest son, and had one brother and two sisters: his uncle, Colonel John Campbell, took an interest in the boy, and after Colin had spent a few years at the High School in Glasgow the colonel removed him to Gosport—the Royal Academy.
When only fifteen and a half years old Colin was taken by his uncle to be introduced to the Duke of York at the Horse Guards. The Duke, supposing the boy to be "another of the clan," as he remarked, entered him for a commission in the 9th Regiment of Foot as Colin Campbell.
Upon leaving the Horse Guards the boy said: "Uncle, the Duke has put me down by a wrong name."
"No, laddie: the name of Campbell will be a rare good name to go by in the army: dinna fash yourself aboot it at all." Thus it was that Colin Macliver was always known as a Campbell.
On the 26th of May 1808, Colin received his commission of ensign, and within five weeks he was promoted to a lieutenancy in the same regiment. Colin's after promotions were not so speedy, for that was the time of winning promotion by a long purse, or by interest with noble families: the boy did not possess these advantages, and only very slowly did he emerge from obscurity.
Thus Lord Raglan was a colonel at twenty-seven; Colin Campbell did not attain that rank until he had served twenty-seven years: bitterly did he feel the promotion over his head of inferior soldiers who had never heard a shot fired in warfare.
It was a stirring time when Colin Campbell first joined the British Army: Napoleon had placed his brother Joseph on the throne of Spain; Junot was ruling in Lisbon under Napoleon's orders; but the Spaniards misliked the attention, and, calling on England for help, they rose in arms against their foreign master. The Portuguese followed suit, and Wellesley had just sailed from Cork to the Peninsula in July 1808 for six years' hard fighting before they succeeded in driving the French armies over the Pyrenees.
Campbell was posted to the 2nd battalion of the 9th, commanded by Colonel Cameron, whom he soon learnt to like and admire. They took ship at Ramsgate on 20th July, and Campbell reports in his journal for the 19th of August, "lay out that night for the first time in my life": this was on a sandy beach at the mouth of the Maceira. We may note that all through his life Colin Campbell preferred to bivouac in the open with his men and live on the same fare as they did: this was one secret of his popularity. On the very first day after landing, Campbell's battalion was under a fierce fire from Laborde's guns at Vimiera. Campbell's captain, an officer of years, seeing the extreme youth of the Scottish boy, called him to his side, took him by the hand and led him by the flank of the battalion to the front, where he walked with him up and down the front of the leading company for several minutes in full view of the enemy's artillery, which had begun to open fire on our troops. He then let go the hand of the fifteen-year-old boy and told him to join his company. The captain intended to give the youngster confidence, but the lesson might have had a different result.
However, Sir Colin in after years, when he told the story, added: "It was the greatest kindness that could have been shown me at such a time, and through life I have felt grateful for it."
After the battle of Vimiera and Junot's defeat the French agreed to leave Portugal by the Convention of Cintra, and Campbell was transferred to the 1st battalion near Lisbon: he now was under Sir John Moore, and after the advance to Salamanca was in the terrible retreat to Corunna with Soult in pursuit, in the middle of winter. One officer and one hundred and forty-eight men of his battalion died on the road from exhaustion, or were made prisoners: Sir Colin used to relate how he had to march with bare feet for some time before reaching Corunna, as the soles of his boots were completely worn away. When he got on board ship he could not take off his boots, as from constant wear the leather stuck so closely to the flesh of his legs that he was obliged to steep them in hot water and have the leather cut away in strips—a process rendered painful by the coming away of pieces of skin. The battalion on its return was stationed at Canterbury. In six months' time they joined the forces of the Earl of Chatham which were preparing to advance up the Scheldt, attack Antwerp, and destroy the French fleet moored under its walls.
Under General Montresor the 1st battalion landed on the island of South Beveland, opposite that of Walcheren. While waiting for the fall of Flushing over one-sixth of our troops died of malarial fever: the expedition was a costly failure, and Colin Campbell, as well as hundreds of others, brought away the seeds of "Walcheren fever," which assailed them at periods to the end of their lives. After this Campbell was sent back to the 2nd battalion, then stationed at Gibraltar, and fought in a severe engagement at Barossa (1811), under Sir Thomas Graham. As all the other officers were wounded, this boy had to command the two flank companies, and gained some praise. In 1813, Campbell was, to his delight, under Lord Wellington on the lower Douro, when with 70,000 men he turned the French positions and drove them towards the Pyrenees.
He writes, after a long pursuit of the enemy on the 18th of June: "The ground on which we skirmished was so thickly wooded and so rugged and uneven, that when we were relieved . . . I found myself incapable of further exertion from fatigue and exhaustion, occasioned by six hours of almost continuous skirmishing."
Campbell, we must remember, was not yet twenty-one years old. His next battle was Vittoria, in which the French lost guns and treasure, stores and papers, and many Frenchmen retired in rags with bare feet. Then came the investment of San Sebastian, situated on a peninsula jutting out into the sea: here Campbell distinguished himself in the capture of a redoubt and convent and was mentioned in dispatches. Later, in a hopeless attempt to storm through a breach, Campbell was twice wounded, but still pressed on.
Napier in his History writes: "It was in vain that Lieutenant Campbell, breaking through the tumultuous crowd with the survivors of his chosen detachment, mounted the ruins—twice he ascended, twice he was wounded, and all around him died."
Campbell's wounds prevented him from sharing in the glory of the last and successful assault on San Sebastian: but the hospital could not keep him long; for he and a brother-officer, hearing that a battle was imminent, deserted from hospital and limped after their regiment, getting a lift now and then from commissariat wagons, till they waded the Bidassoa, and with the 9th invaded France, assailed the steep Croix des Bouquets and won the position.
Napier writes: "At this moment Colonel Cameron arrived with the 9th Regiment, and rushed with great vehemence to the summit of the first height." At last the French, appalled by the furious shout and charge of the 9th, gave way, and the ridges of the Croix des Bouquets were won as far as the royal road.
Colin commanded the light company in front, and was again severely wounded: this occurred on the 7th October 1813.
His colonel reprimanded him for his breach of discipline, but he could not refrain from a word of praise for his gallantry. On the 9th of November, Colin Campbell was promoted to captain, without purchase, in the 60th Rifles.
He returned home with the strongest recommendations to the Horse Guards; but he was "nobody" at present, and instead of getting staff employment, took a temporary wound.. pension of £100 a year, which helped him his straitened circumstances. For a time Colin found a home with his uncle, Colonel Campbell, who interested himself in trying to procure his nephew a staff appointment in Holland, but in vain.
Seeing no prospect of serving in Holland, Campbell applied for leave to join his regiment in Nova Scotia, where a force had been collected in view of hostilities against the United States. But his wounds incapacitated him for duty, and he left Halifax in July 1815 for London: here he renewed his pension, and was advised to seek health in the south of France.
After some months' stay at Aix he rejoined the 60th at Gibraltar, and remained there until, in November 1818, his battalion was named for reduction, and Captain Campbell was transferred to the 21st North British Fusiliers, serving at home.
In April 1819, Campbell embarked for Barbados, whither the 21st Fusiliers had preceded him: here he was under the command of Lord Combermere, to whom he was warmly recommended by Lord Lynedoch, his ever-constant friend.
The years from 1819 to 1826 were passed by Colin Campbell in the West Indies, first in Barbados, then in Demerara. The climate and a vigorous constitution enabled him to shake off much of the Walcheren fever, and he enjoyed the pleasant society of the islands. When General Sir Benjamin d'Urban succeeded General Murray, Campbell became brigade-major, and the two officers lived in the closest intimacy and friendship.
In November 1825, Campbell purchased his majority: a friend in the colony lent him £600, and he borrowed £200 from his agents. As he was sending his father £40 every year, the expense of a field-officer's outfit fell heavily upon him: he once or twice thought of throwing up the service in despair, as many a good and poor officer had been compelled to do before; but, luckily for his country, he listened to the advice of his friends, pocketed his Scot's pride and accepted his friend's loan of £600. Campbell now had to leave Demerara and join the depot in England. General Shadwell describes his appearance from a portrait taken at this period.
"A profusion of curly, brown hair, a well-shaped mouth and a wide brow, already foreshadowing the deep lines which became so marked a feature of his countenance in later years, convey the idea of manliness and vigour. His height was about five feet nine, his frame well-knit and powerful; to an agreeable presence he added the charm of engaging manners, which, according to the testimony of those who were familiar with him at this period, rendered him popular either at the dinner-table or in the drawing-room."
Fair, curly-haired, pleasant-mannered, and known to be brave, even to rashness—no wonder the slender-pursed officer made his way amongst those who valued the man above his clothes.
Once when dining with Dr. Keate, the Eton headmaster, a guest suddenly asked Colin Campbell in a pause of the conversation—
"How did you feel, sir, when you led the forlorn hope at San Sebastian."
With a little sarcastic laugh the soldier replied—
"Very much, sir, as if I should get my company if I succeeded."
His interrogator could get no more out of the model major, and regretted his somewhat blunt inquiry.
After a few months' service in Ireland, Colin Campbell was able, through the kindness of a relation on his mother's side, to purchase an unattached lieutenant-colonelcy.
On the 5th October 1832, Lord Fitzroy Somerset wrote to say that on his lodging £1300 in the hands of his agents, Lord Hill would submit his name to the King. So, after serving for twenty-five years on full pay, this exceptionally good officer was enabled to buy his promotion!
But what of those officers who had no rich friends to help them? George Bell of the Royals, a friend of Colin's, possessed the Peninsular War medal, with seven clasps for seven pitched battles. He had since fought in India and Burma: but whereas Campbell was a lieutenant-colonel in 1832, Bell was still a captain in 1839! As Campbell had no duties, being unattached, he went off to Antwerp, to watch the siege conducted by Marshal Gerard. He kept an accurate journal of the operations for the Horse Guards, and was thanked by Lord Hill. When Antwerp and the Dutch capitulated, Campbell went to live in Marburg, and studied German.
In 1834 he was back in London, asking for a regiment, and always being politely put off: his means were small, his hopes low, his expenses too great; yet he felt he must be near the Horse Guards.
In his journal he writes: "It has been a sickening time to me; and what makes it more disagreeable is the little appearance, even after twelve months of misery, of such a termination as would be satisfactory." But his time came in May 1835, when he was offered the command of the 98th.
From Captain Henry Eyre, Colonel Campbell learnt the minutest details concerning this regiment: he resolved to train his regiment on the principles laid down by Sir John Moore and practised at Shorncliffe: by this method the officer grew to be the friend and protector of his men: gradually they became so intimate, and trusted in each other's honour so confidently, that the men would follow their officers willingly on the most desperate ventures.
Yet Campbell was no gentle sentimentalist: he was never slow to wrath when events stirred him; and sometimes, indeed, his anger blazed out, and his Highland blood boiled and his grey eyes flashed dangerously for very little incitement.
We have seen already how he savagely rebuked the officer at the Cawnpur bridge for saying, "We are at our last gasp? Another occasion of like sort was when, in the last attack on the rebels before Lucknow, a famous colonel came to him flushed with victory and carrying a flag he had torn from the grasp of the foe. Sir Colin turned fiercely on the gallant officer, and shouted, "D— you, sir! what business have you to be taking flags! go back to your men."
The staff officers looked wistfully at the poor colonel, as he retired crestfallen and surprised: they pleaded for him after he had gone, and the anger vanished and passed into a more generous mood. That evening Sir Colin asked the colonel to dine with him in his tent, and begged his pardon for his hasty rebuke. Stories like these teach us more about a man than many pages of subtle analysis.
But the slack officer and the drunken soldier found no sympathy in this hot-blooded chief: for he never spared himself and he expected all to do their duty without fail. He insisted on economy in the officers' mess, knowing that the expenses of a soldier's life often led to gambling or resignation.
For more than two years the 98th served in the northern district of England, and it was during this period that Colin Campbell taught his men to advance firing in line—a difficult movement with the old muzzle-loader, and one which he found useful in later days.
In December 1841, the 98th embarked on the Belleisle for China, 800 strong: they were all in good health, but the ship was overcrowded, and on joining the force under Sir Hugh Gough in their red coats and thick European clothing, the hot sun struck them down, and cholera and fever turned them into invalids. Within ten days of landing at Chin-kiang near the river estuary, fifty-three men had died, and the ship was becoming a floating hospital.
In a letter to his sister written in December, the colonel says: "The regiment has lost by death up to this date 283 men, and there are still 231 sick, of whom some 60 will die."
In those days less attention was paid to health than now: but the Japanese have shown us how important it is to shield troops from the incompetence of men in authority: we have still much to learn. At the end of 1842 Campbell became commandant of Hong-Kong: here he learnt that he had been made Companion of the Bath and Aide-de-camp to the Queen. Later he got leave to remove the remains of his sick regiment to the island of Chusan, where the air was bracing. Campbell kept his men busy and active, with sham fights in the open country: but it was long before they could strike off the effects of the disease. Ague made the colonel irritable and melancholy: after a year and a half in Chusan he wrote: "I have only one thought and one wish left, and that is for repose; for my spirit has already been sufficiently broken by disappointment; and as all whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, success or miscarriage in the struggles of professional life have become empty sounds."
In July 1846, Campbell received a letter of thanks from the Chinese Commissioners for his kindness and liberality towards the Chinese, and in his journal of 24th July writes: "Took a walk on shore in the evening—my last walk in Chusan, where I have passed many days in quiet and peace, and where I was enabled to save a little money, with which I hope to render my last days comfortable. I have been able also to assist others to a great extent: altogether I have every reason to be grateful to God for sending me to such a situation."
The 98th landed at Calcutta in October 1846, and marched to Dinapur, where the colonel heard he was appointed brigadier to command at Lahore. It was a great wrench to leave the regiment, and his health was drunk at mess with warmth and cordiality.
On his way to Lahore, Campbell met the Governor-General, Lord Hardinge, who described Henry Lawrence, the Resident in the Punjab, as "the king of the country, clever and good-natured, but hot-tempered." The two hot-tempered men became great friends.
But Campbell had not been long at Lahore before the rebellion of Moolraj broke out at Multan, and then the Sikh War occurred. At Chilianwallah, while Campbell was leading a charge on the Sikh guns, a gunner rushed at him, tulwar in hand, and gave him a deep sword-cut on his right arm. Before this the Sikh gunner had fired and apparently missed. But next morning Campbell found that the bullet had smashed the ivory handle of a small pistol which he carried in his waistcoat pocket, and had also damaged his watch.
The pistol and the watch saved Colin Campbell for other fights. At the end of this campaign Campbell heard from Sir Charles Napier that he had been promoted to be a Knight of the Bath. "No man has won it better: may you long wear the spurs." The next three years Sir Colin was Warden of the N.W. Frontier, having under him the 98th and 61st.
In dealing with the turbulent tribes Sir Colin leaned to the side of mercy, for he hated burning villages and exterminating families. Lord Dalhousie, that imperious Governor-General who took all knowledge for his province, and could not brook any to cross his wishes, sent a formal censure of Sir Colin to Peshawur. "You have manifested over-cautious reluctance in advancing against the Swat marauders."
Sir Colin wrote to Sir William Gomm, who had succeeded Napier as commander-in-chief: "I have come to the conclusion that I should be wanting in what is due to myself, were I, after what has passed, to continue in this command . . . . There is a limit at which a man's forbearance ought to stop."
And to Sir Henry Lawrence, Sir Colin wrote: "I have put a restraint upon myself, of which at one time in my life I should not have been capable: I feel it is safer for me, and better for the public service, that I should not have longer to continue the effort. Remember me to John: he must not quarrel with me." Lord Dalhousie in his pride had accused Sir Colin of placing "himself in an attitude of direct and proclaimed insubordination to the authority of the Governor-General in Council."
What Archibald Forbes calls "the barbed and venomous insinuation" which underlay the words "over-cautious reluctance" was modified a little by Lord Dalhousie's dispatch in which he acknowledged Sir Colin's "personal intrepidity and sterling soldierly qualities."
Lord Gough was censured for losing so many men against the Sikhs; Sir Colin for taking measures to preserve his men! Sir Charles Napier wrote Campbell a sympathetic letter, casting ridicule on the attempt of Dalhousie to direct a frontier campaign from Calcutta: "You have saved your column, and for this you are abused . . . . it was a foolish, ill-judged and most unmilitary operation, and I said all along that the Government were lucky in having a real soldier to command it, and save their army. You have done so, and I think you have every reason to be proud of having, like a wise commander, conducted an ill-judged operation in a masterly manner."
General Napier's kind letter gave the wounded brigadier great comfort, and he thanked his friend for the expression of approval from one whose opinion was to him "almost like the Creed." On his return to England Sir Colin resigned the command of the 98th, and went on half-pay.
He was sixty-one, and longed for a rest after forty-four years' hard service: but it was not to be, for England and France had formed an alliance in defence of Turkey against Russia; and in March 1854 war was declared.
Lord Raglan was appointed to the command, and Sir Colin was nominated to a brigade command.
With Major Sterling his brigade-major, and Captain Shadwell his aide-de-camp, he embarked for Constantinople on the 3rd of April. Here he learnt that he was appointed to the Highland Brigade, which consisted of the 42nd, 79th, and 93rd regiments. This was the first time that Campbell, a Highlander himself, had commanded Highlanders. But the men took to him at once, regarding him rather as the chief of a clan than an ordinary commanding officer.
In August 1854 they embarked at Varna for the Crimea. In writing to his sister about the Alma, Sir Colin says: "Here I lost my best horse—a noble animal. He was first shot in the hip, the ball passing through my sabretasche, and the second ball went right through his body, passing through the heart. He sank at once; Shadwell kindly lent me his horse, which I immediately mounted."
He did not tell her how he had led three battalions against twelve Russian battalions, the elite of the Tzar's troops: but he did tell his friend, Colonel Eyre, something of the struggle, the firing while advancing in line, the marching over rough ground, the successive attacks, and the emotion of Lord Raglan when the battle had been fought and won.
"He sent for me: when I approached him I observed his eyes to fill and his lips and countenance to quiver. He gave me a cordial shake of the hand, but he could not speak. The men cheered very much . . . they had behaved nobly. I never saw troops march to battle with greater sang-froid and order."
Kinglake tells us that as the Brigade of Guards was about to cross the river on Campbell's right they were exposed to fire of artillery, and some officer shouted, "The Brigade of Guards will be destroyed! Ought it not to fall back?"
The Highland blood flew up, and Sir Colin replied, "It is better, sir, that every man of Her Majesty's Guards should lie dead on the field than that they should turn their backs upon the enemy."
This is Kinglake's version: but those who knew Sir Colin remarked that his language would have been stronger and franker.
On the 16th of October, Lord Raglan gave Sir Colin the command of the troops and defences covering Balaclava harbour, the British base of operations: 1200 marines landed from the fleet in the harbour held the line of batteries: the 93rd were in camp at the head of the gorge, and an exterior chain, of redoubts was garrisoned by Turks; but they had only nine guns to work with. On the 23rd, General Laprandi led 24,000 Russians to assault these redoubts: after a gallant resistance the Turks fell back and rallied on either flank of the 93rd.
As the Russian cavalry charged against Lord Lucan's division, one body consisting of some four hundred men turned to their left and charged the 93rd. This charge Sir Colin awaited calmly in line—"the thin red streak tipped with a line of steel." Sir Colin was quite conscious that the protection of the post depended on his kilted men, with a few guns of the marine artillery; as he rode along the face of his regiment, he told his men how grave the occasion was. "Remember, there is no retreat from here, men! You must die where you stand."
A loud and cheery answer warmed his heart: "Ay, ay, Sir Colin; we'll do that and a'."
The cavalry charge was no sooner repulsed by the 93rd than they stood spectators of the Scots Greys—the heavy brigade—slashing their way fiercely through the grey-coats of the Russian troopers. How intense was their gaze, as, panting from their recent exertions, they followed the movements of the great mass of Russians, dividing, meeting, wavering, and then breaking into clusters before they turned their horses' heads and fled in wild disorder.
Scarlett's troopers heard the ringing cheer, the wild yell of delighted mountaineers—as they rode back in triumph.
Then Sir Colin rode forward to greet the Greys and congratulate them.
"Greys, gallant Greys!" he cried, "I am sixty-one years old, and if I were young again I should be proud to be in your ranks."
A general order from the commander of the forces was read, in which Sir Colin and the 93rd Highlanders were thanked for the brilliant manner in which they had repulsed the enemy's cavalry.
Sir Colin's anxiety night and day was so tense and continuous that he only took sleep by snatches, and he was ever going round in the dark and examining the posts and redoubts.
On December 5th the Russian field-army withdrew from the vicinity of Balaclava, and then Sir Colin undressed and went to bed.
But in his dreams he started up and shouted, "Stand to your arms!" startling the officer who shared his room.
The French General Vinoy and Sir Colin became great friends, and worked together loyally on many occasions: for Sir Colin could speak French fluently.
In the terrible winter that followed, when our troops were ill-housed and ill-clothed, it was Lord Raglan who got all the blame in the English papers. As to this Sir Colin wrote to Colonel Eyre: "I am disgusted with the attacks that have been made upon dear Lord Raglan. God pity the army if anything were to occur to take him from us!"
In May 1855, Sir Colin was disappointed by the removal from his command of the Highland Brigade, which was now sent on the expedition to Kertsh. A second disappointment was his in the Highland Brigade not having been chosen to take a prominent part in the final assault on Sebastopol.
Sir Colin acknowledged the noble defence made by the Russians, their skilful withdrawal from the city, and their care of our wounded in the great Redan. "Indeed," he says, "before the Russians left the Redan some of our wounded were carefully dressed by them and placed in safety from the fire of our own shells."
Sir Colin had saved Balaclava by his unremitting exertions and skilful formation of trenches and redoubts: officers averred that it was he and his Highlanders who won the battle of the Alma.; yet the newspapers at home were clamouring for the promotion of younger men, and Lord Panmure, the War Minister, yielded to the ignorant clamour, and, through General Simpson who had succeeded Lord Raglan, offered Sir Colin Campbell the Malta command.
So a second time the brave and cautious Scot was requested to give up his command. He was now by virtue of seniority second in command, and Simpson was about to retire.
The irascible old general felt the slight and winced under the blow, but before he left the Crimea he carried out one more cautious scheme in the face of authority.
General Parke, who commanded the 72nd Highlanders, tells us: "The example he set us all of every military quality, pre-eminently that of care and forethought in all that appertained to the welfare of those under him, can never be forgotten."
He goes on to say that the Highland Division in the autumn of 1855 was encamped near the south shores of the Crimea, but still under canvas; the cold was increasing, and the men would suffer.
Sir Colin heard of a ship laden with huts having come into harbour, and he at once rode over to headquarters and applied for them.
"No transport available—very sorry—but if you can obtain transport, your application may be entertained."
"Vary weel!" thought the canny Scot, and galloped off to his camp, ordered out all his regiments in fatigue-dress and marched them down to Balaclava.
Piece by piece the brawny Highlanders carried the huts upon their shoulders, to the astonishment of many a smart linesman: captain and subaltern, sergeant and private—all shared alike in the work with right goodwill and merry quip: in a very short time these Northerners were comfortably hutted for the winter.
Then, with a moving speech of "Farewell" to his men, Sir Colin sailed for England on 3rd November, and three days later Sir William Codrington was nominated to the chief command.
"I have come home to tender my resignation," said Sir Colin to his friend Lord Hardinge, now commander-in-chief, and Lord Hardinge, we may be sure, gave him his warmest sympathy.
There was another who had watched his career with admiration and valued his services more highly than her Ministers.
Queen Victoria promptly invited General Campbell to Windsor. There both the Queen and the Prince Consort received him with such gracious attention that all soreness, all angry feeling was dispelled from his mind, and he frankly spoke out: "Your Majesty, I am willing to return to the Crimea and serve under a corporal if you wish it."
So off he went again to the Crimea, staying at Paris long enough to be presented to the Emperor and Empress, and to have a pleasant evening with his Crimean friend, General Vinoy.
Once more he was given the Highland Division, but in April 1856 peace was proclaimed: Sir Colin told his troops he was going home and should never serve any more. In this changing world a "last farewell" often leads to a renewing of love.
In part from General Shadwell's Life of Clyde, by kind permission of Messrs. Blackwood.