Friday, 9 April 2010

Marshals and Generals

British General

Sir Thomas Picton

Born: 1758 Poyston, Pombrokeshire, Wales

Died: 1815 Waterloo, Belgium

RANK: Lieutenant General

Picton was born in August 1758 in Poyston, Pembrokeshire in Wales. He was the younger son of Thomas Picton.
Picton obtained an ensign’s commission in the 12th regiment of foot (East Suffolk) in 1771 at the age of 13 but he did not join them until two years later.
The regiment was then stationed at Gilbraltar, where he remained until he was made captain in the 75th at the age of 20.
In January 1778, the regiment was disbanded five years later and Picton retired to his father’s estate for nearly twelve years.
In 1794 he volunteered for service in the West Indies and became aide-de-camp to the commander-in-chief, Sir John Vaughan. He was given the captaincy in the 17th foot and shortly afterwards he was promoted to major in the 58th foot, where he fought with distinction and acquired a reputation as a brutal disciplinarian. Under Sir Ralph Abercromby, who succeeded Vaughan in 1795, he was present at the capture of St Lucia after which he was promoted again to lieutenant colonel of the 56th foot he then took part in the capture of St Vincent.
He was appointed Governor of Trinidad, captured from the Spaniards, in 1797. His career then took a turn for the worst, when he was sent home in disgrace for condoning the torture of a local woman. In December 1803 he returned to Britain and was arrested to face charges by order of the Privy Council and promptly released on bail set at £40,000. At court on the evidence given, the jury decided that Picton was guilty, so he set about a retrial which he got in 1808.
With credible witnesses the jury reversed the verdict of the earlier trail.
Despite this setback his career continued to flourish. In 1810 he was posted to Iberia, Spain Serving under Wellington to command the 3rd Division and despite his faults Picton was extremely brave and was often in the thick of battle by leading his division from the front, dressed in black civilian coat and top hat throughout the Peninsular Campaign. At Fuentes de Onoro, Badajoz and Vitoria he won admiration for his courage.
In 1812, Picton and Craufurd were side by side for the last time. Storming two breaches of Ciudad Rodrigo, Craufurd and Picton’s second in command, Major-General Henry Mackinnon, being mortally wounded. At Badajoz, a month later, the successful storming of the fortress was due to his daring self-reliance and penetration in converting the secondary attack on the castle, delivered by the “Fighting” 3rd Division, into a real one. He was himself wounded in this engagement, but would not leave the ramparts. With his wound and an attack of fever, Picton returned to Britain to recoup his health.
At the Battle of Vitoria in June 1813, Picton led is Division across a key bridge under heavy fire. According to Picton, the enemy responded by pummelling the 3rd with 40 to 50 cannon’s and a counter-attack on their right flank causing the 3rd to lose 1,800 men as they held their ground. The conduct of the 3rd Division under his leadership at the battle at Vitoria and in the engagements in the Pyrenees raised his reputation as a resolute and skilful fighting general. By the time the British army had crossed the Pyrenees and reached Toulouse, Picton had grown weary of soldering. In 1813 he was knighted with the Knights Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath and promoted to lieutenant general.
So at the age of 56 he retired and it took all of Wellington’s persuasive skills to get Picton to join him for the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 by giving him command of the 5th Division.
Picton displayed all of his fire and determination at Quatre Bras, where his Division was badly mauled and where he was wounded before withdrawing to Waterloo.
Keeping his injury a secret, he led his Division to crush D’Erlon’s attack on the Allied centre when he was shot through the head by a musket ball. His last words were said to have been, “Come on you rogues, you rascals”. He became the most senior office to die that day. His body was brought home to London and buried in the family vault at St George’s, Hanover Square in London.

Wellington once called Picton, as rough, foul mouthed a devil as ever lived. He was certainly coarse, moody and impetuous but was also an able commander who had the respect of his men and Wellington valued above all his other Divisional commanders.