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General Sir Ralph Abercromby, K.B.


Sir Ralph Abercromby was the son of George Abercromby of Tullibody, in Clackmannanshire. He was born, in 1731, in the old mansion of Menstrie, which at that period was the ordinary residence of his parents. The house, which is in the village of Menstrie, although not inhabited by any of the family, is still entire, and is pointed out to strangers as the birthplace of the hero. After going through the usual course of study, he adopted the army as his profession ; and, at the age of twenty-two, obtained in the year 1756 a commission as Cornet in the 3rd Regiment of Dragoons.

During the early part of his service he had little opportunity of displaying his military talents, but he gradually rose, and in 1787 had attained the rank of Major-General. After the breaking out of the French revolutionary war, Sir Ralph Abercromby served in the campaigns of 1794 and 1795, under the Duke of York, and by his judicious conduct preserved the British army from destruction during their disastrous retreat through Holland. He commanded the advanced guard, and was wounded at the battle of Nimeguen.

After the return of Sir Charles Grey from the West Indies, the French retook the islands of Guadaloupe and St. Lucia, made good their landing on Martinique, and hoisted their national colours on several forts in the islands of St. Vincent, Granada, &c, besides possessing themselves of booty to the amount of 1800 millions of livres. For the purpose of checking this devastation, the British fitted out a fleet in the autumn of 1795, with a proper military force. Sir Ralph was entrusted with the charge of the troops, and at the same time appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in the West Indies. Being detained longer than was expected, the equinox set in before the fleet was ready to sail, and, in endeavouring to clear the Channel, several of the transports were lost. The remainder of the fleet reached the West Indies in safety, and by the month of March, 1796, the troops were in a condition for active duty. The General succeeded in driving the French from all their possessions, and, assisted by part of a new convoy from Britain, was enabled to capture the island of Trinidad from the Spaniards.

Sir Ralph next made an attack upon the Spanish island of Puerto Eico, which proved unsuccessful, but without by any means tarnishing his previously well-earned laurels. On his return to this country in 1797, he was received with every demonstration of public respect. He was presented by his Majesty with the Colonelcy of the Scots Greys—invested with the honour of the Order of the Bath—rewarded with the lucrative governments of Fort-George and Fort-Augustus, and, on the 26th of January, he was raised to the rank of Lieutenant-General in the Army.

Sir Ralph was next appointed to the chief command in Ireland, whore the flame of civil war was threatening to burst forth. After visiting a great portion of the kingdom, and restoring in a great degree the discipline of the army, which, in the Commander's own words, had become, from their irregularities, "more formidable to their friends than their enemies," the General was removed by the Marquis Cornwallis, who united the offices of Lord-Lieutenant and Commander-in-Chief in his own person, much to the satisfaction of Sir Ralph, who was anxious to leave Ireland. He was then appointed Commander of the Forces in Scotland.

In 1798, Sir Ralph was selected to take charge of the expedition sent out to Holland, for the purpose of restoring the Prince of Orange to the Stadtholdership, from which he had been ejected by the French. In this expedition the British were at the outset successful. The first and well-contested encounter with General Daendell, on the 27th of August, near the Helder Point, in which the Dutch were defeated, led to the immediate evacuation of the Helder, by which thirteen ships of war and three ludiamen, together with the arsenal and naval magazine, fell an easy prey to the British. The Dutch fleet also surrendered to Admiral Mitchell, the sailors refusing to fight against the Prince of Orange. This encouraging event, however, by no means spoke the sentiments of the mass of the Dutch people, or disconcerted the enemy. On the morning of the 11th of September, the Dutch and French forces attacked the position of the British, which extended from Petten on the German Ocean to Oude-Sluys on the Zuyder-Zee. The onset was made with the utmost bravery, but the enemy were repulsed with the loss of a thousand men. Sir Ralph, from the want of numbers, was unable to follow up this advantage, until the Duke of York arrived as Commander-in-Chief, with a number of Russians, Batavians, and Dutch volunteers, which augmented the allied army to nearly thirty-six thousand.

An attempt upon the enemy's positions on the heights of Camperdown being agreed upon, on the morning of the 19th September the allied forces successfully commenced the attack. The Russians made themselves masters of Bergen; but commencing the pillage too soon, the enemy rallied, and attacked the Russians—who were busy plundering—with so much impetuosit}7, that they were driven from the town in all directions. This untoward circumstance compelled the British to abandon the positions they had stormed, and to fall back upon their former station. Another attack on the stronghold of the enemy was made on the 2nd of October. The conflict lasted the whole day, but the enemy abandoned their positions during the night. On this occasion Sir Ralph Abercromby had two horses shot under him. Sir John Moore was twice wounded severely, and reluctantly carried off the field ; while the Marquis of Huntly (the late Duke of Gordon), who, at the head of the 92nd regiment, was eminently distinguished, received a wound from a ball in the shoulder.

The Dutch and French troops having taken up another strong position between Benerwych and the Zuyder-Zee, it was resolved to dislodge them before they could receive reinforcements. A day of sanguinary fighting ensued, which continued without intermission until ten o'clock at night, amid deluges of rain. General Brune having been reinforced with six thousand additional men, and the ground he occupied being nearly impregnable, while the arms and ammunition of the British, who were all night exposed to the elements, were rendered useless, retreat became a measure of necessity. Upon this the Duke of York entered into an armistice with the Republican forces, by which the troops were allowed to embark for England, where they arrived in safety.

In the month of June, 1800, General Abercromby was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the troops ultimately destined for Egypt. Owing to casualties unnecessary to mention, the armament did not reach the place of its destination till the 8th of March, 1801, on which day the troops disembarked in Aboukir Bay, notwithstanding the strenuous efforts of the French to prevent them.

On the 18th March, Sir Ralph attacked the French in their posi-lion, and succeeded, after a keen contest, in forcing them to retreat to the heights of Nicopolis. An attempt to take these heights, which were found to be commanded by the guns of the fort, proved unsuccessful. The British took up the position formerly occupied by the enemy, with their right to the sea, and their left to the canal of Alexandria, thus cutting off all communication with the city. On the 18th the garrison of Aboukir surrendered.

General Menou, the French commander, having been reinforced, attempted to take the British by surprise, and suddenly attacked their positions with his whole force. The enemy advanced with much impetuosity, shouting as they went, but they were received with stead}- coolness by the British troops. The field was contested with various success, until General Menou, finding that all his endeavours proved fruitless, ordered a retreat, which from the want of cavalry ou the part of the British, he was enabled to accomplish in good order. This battle, which proved decisive of the fate of Egypt, and left an impression not easily to be defaced of British courage and prowess, was dearly gained by the death of Sir Ralph himself. Early in the morning, he had taken his station in the front line, from the exposed nature of which, and at a moment when he had dispersed all his staff on various duties, the enemy attempted to take him prisoner. Two of the enemy's cavalry dashing forward, and "drawing up on each side, attempted to lead him away prisoner. In this unequal contest he received a blow on the breast; but with the vigour and strength of arm for which he was distinguished, he seized on the sabre of one of those who struggled with him, and forced it out of his hand. At this moment, a corporal of the 42nd Highlanders, seeing his situation, ran up to his assistance, and shot one of the assailants, on which the other retired." From this perilous situation, the General was relieved by the valour of his troops, when it was discovered that he had been wounded in the thigh. He was repeatedly pressed by the soldiers to have the wound attended to; but he treated it as a matter of no moment, and continued to give directions on the field until victory became certain by the retreat of the enemy. The intense excitement of action being thus over, Sir Ralph at last fainted from loss of blood; and although the wound was immediately examined, every attempt to extract the ball proved unsuccessful. He was carried on a litter aboard the Foudroyant, where he died on the 28th March.

The death of General Abercromby was looked upon as a national calamity. A monument was ordered to be erected to his memory by the House of Commons; and his Majesty, as a mark of further respect, confirmed the title of Baroness on his lady, and the dignity of Baron to the heirs-male of his body. On the recommendation of his Majesty, a pension of .£2000 per annum was voted to the Baroness, and to the two next succeeding heirs.

The capital of his native country was not backward in acknowledging the honour reflected by so worthy a son. At a meeting of the Magistrates and Town Council of Edinburgh, it was resolved that a monument to the memory of Sir Ralph Abercromby should be erected on the wall of the High Church; and a very liberal collection was made in all the churches and chapels for the relief of the families of the "brave men who had fallen in Egypt." In honour of his memory, also, the Edinburgh Volunteer Brigade, on the 2nd of June, performed a grand military spectacle at the Meadows. They were dressed in "deep funeral uniform," while the bands performed "plaintive pieces of music, some of which were composed for the occasion." The crowd of spectators, as may be supposed, was immense, and the scene is said to have been "solemn and impressive."

Sir Ralph married Anne, daughter of John Menzies, of Fernton, in the county of Perth, by whom he had four sons and two daughters. His eldest son, George, on the death of his mother, 17th February, 1821, became Lord Abercromby of Aboukir and Tullibody, and married, 27th January, 1799, Montague, third daughter of Henry, first Viscount Melville, by whom he had issue one son and two daughters. His second son, John, G.C.B., died unmarried, in the year 1817. The third son, James, married in 1802, Mary Ann, daughter of Egerton Leigh, Esq., by whom he has issue one son, Ralph (born 6th April, 1803), now Miuister at Turin. The fourth son, Alexander, C.B., is a Lieutenant-Colonel in the army.


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