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Significant Scots
Thomas Graham


Thomas GrahamGRAHAM, THOMAS, LORD LYNEDOCH.—This venerable warrior was descended from a common ancestor with the Dukes of Montrose. He was the third son of Thomas Graham of Balgowan, in Perthshire, by Lady Christian Hope, fourth daughter of Charles, first Earl of Hopetoun, and was born A.D. 1750. He had thus reached his ninety-fourth year when he died, a period of life which few who have undergone the hardships and privatons of trying campaigns are privileged to attain.

Nothing in the early course of Thomas Graham indicated that he would become not only a soldier, but a skilful and successful one. By the death of his two elder brothers he became the heir and representative of the family; and by his marriage with Mary Cathcart, daughter of the ninth Lord Cathcart, his affections were so completely occupied and his home endeared, that he had reached his forty-second year, with the character of an amiable country gentleman, whose highest object was the welfare of his tenants and the happiness of all around him. But all at once this tranquil happiness was brought to a close by the death of Mrs. Graham in 1792, after she had been married eighteen years; and her husband, who loved her with a surpassing affection, was inconsolable at her death. The bereavement was also still farther imbittered by the circumstance of their marriage having been without offspring, so that no child was left behind to cheer the solitude of his dwelling, and restore to him the look and accents of the departed. He felt as if he had sustained a loss for which nothing could compensate; but instead of having recourse to the miserable remedy of the suicide, he resolved at the age of forty-three to devote himself to a military life, where he might find, not a soldier’s glory, for which at this time he cared not, but a soldier’s early grave, the refuge best fitted for a weary and broken heart. Who would have thought that a feeling so tender and domestic was to produce the victor of Barossa? It is to this commencement of his military life that Sir Walter Scott so touchingly alludes, while describing the chief heroes of the peninsular war, in his "Vision of Don Roderick":—

"Nor be his praise o’erpast who strove to hide
Beneath the warrior’s vest affection’s wound,
Whose wish, Heaven for his country’s weal denied;
Danger and fate he sought, but glory found.
From clime to clime, where’er war’s trumpets sound,
The wanderer went; yet, Caledonia! still
Thine was his thought in march and tented ground;
He dreamed ‘mid alpine cliffs of Athole’s hill,
And heard in Ebro’s roar his Lynedoch’s lovely rill."

This choice of a military life was made after the consolations of travel had been tried and found ineffectual. The bereaved man had wandered through France; but neither its beautiful scenery, nor gay society, nor even the wild events of its Revolution, could abstract his mind from its own sorrows. He then became a pilgrim on the shores of the Mediterranean, and passed over to Gibraltar; and it was in the society of the offices there that his choice appears to have been first adopted. He offered himself as a volunteer to Lord Hood, then about to sail to the south of France, and by the latter he was received with welcome. At the commencement of the revolutionary war in 1793, Graham landed with the British troops at Toulon, and officiated there as extra aide-de-camp to Lord Mulgrave, the general in command. In the numerous encounters with the enemy that distinguished this memorable siege, the new volunteer threw himself among the foremost; and on one occasion, when a British soldier fell at the head of the attacking column, Mr. Graham snatched up the musket of the dead man, and took his place. When Toulon was evacuated by the British and Spanish troops, Graham, now a pledged soldier, returned to Scotland, and raised the first battalion of the 90th regiment, in which he was appointed lieutenant-colonel. With this corps he passed the summer of 1795, and was afterward transferred to Gibraltar, where he received the rank of full colonel in the army. The dulness of garrison duty, however, within a sphere so limited as the rock of Gibraltar, was only fitted to aggravate the disease for which Graham was seeking relief, and therefore he sought and easily obtained permission to join the Austrian army, at that time employed against the French on the Rhine. Here he bore a part in the disastrous campaign of the summer of 1796, and was afterwards shut up with the troops of the brave old Wurmser in Mantua, which was invested by the Man of Destiny, at that time known by the simple title of General Bonaparte. The siege was so tedious, that here Colonel Graham fell into the same malady that had compelled him to abandon Gibraltar; and he resolved to leave the garrison in which he served as a volunteer, for more stirring occupation. For this purpose he silently left Mantua on the night of the 24th of December, 1796, amidst a torrent of rain, and accompanied by only one attendant. It was a truly perilous exit; for all the water communications with the lake formed by the Mincio, on which Mantua is situated, were in possession of the French, so that the lake itself was to be crossed in a boat, which stranded repeatedly upon the little islands, and was every moment in danger of swamping. After groping through the midnight darkness and storm, the landing-place was at last reached; and here a new series of dangers commenced. The country round was trodden into mire and studded with swamps, among which the travellers floundered at haphazard; and when morning dawned, Colonel Graham, who wore his British uniform, was in danger of being arrested or shot by the enemy’s pickets. He concealed himself during the day, and travelled only at night, until he reached a river, for the crossing of which he hired a boat, intending to risk a landing, where he would probably have been shot by the French sentinels, had they not been previously driven from their posts by a heavy rain. He thus crossed the river in safety, and finally reached the army of the Archduke Charles, where he continued till the pacification of 1797 by the treaty of Campo Formio, in which France dictated to Austria the terms of a conqueror and master. This termination of the war in Germany released Graham from his temporary volunteer service, and accordingly he returned to his old quarters in Gibraltar.

The rapid current of events quickly called Colonel Graham once more into the field. His first employment was in the reduction of Minorca, under the command of Sir Charles Stuart, who bore honourable testimony to the valuable services of his brave assistant. After this island had been won, Graham repaired to Sicily, and was of such use in retarding the falling fortunes of the king and queen of Naples, that they testified their sense of his merits by repeated acknowledgments. He was afterwards employed in an event of the highest importance to the naval supremacy of our country: this was the reduction of Malta, which had been basely surrendered to Napoleon by the Maltese knights, on the 10th of June, 1793, while he was on his way to the conquest of Egypt, and which he had garrisoned as a key to the future conquest of India. The strength of fort and rampart was such, that had the gates been merely kept shut, even Napoleon himself, at the head of his victorious legions, could never have entered, so that he only became master of the place because there were traitors within to open them. An assault upon this mighty ocean fortress was hopeless, garrisoned as it was by such troops; and nothing could be done except by a blockade from the land, while our ships of war intercepted every aid that could arrive to it by sea. In consequence of this decision, Graham, now holding the local rank of brigadier-general, invested the approaches to Malta with a small army, sufficient for skirmish and observation. This slow process was successful, for after a blockade of two years, Malta surrendered to the British in September, 1800. It is true, indeed, that this cession was made to Major-General Pigot, who had previously arrived with reinforcements and by whom the account of the surrender was sent home; but the despatch bore full testimony to the able and successful arrangements of Graham during the protracted siege. No sooner had the latter arrived in England at the termination, than he found the whole land ringing with the Egyptian campaign, and the successful struggles by which the military glory of Britain, so long held in abeyance, had been recalled to its standards. But what chiefly concerned Graham personally, was the gallant deeds of his own regiment, the 90th, which, in conjunction with the 92d, had formed the advanced guard of the British army on their landing at Aboukir. Eager to join his brave fellows, and partake of their glory and danger, he bade a hurried adieu to England; but on arriving in Egypt he found his presence unnecessary, as the whole French army had capitulated. He therefore left the country for a tour through Turkey, during which he stayed for some time at Constantinople, and afterwards, in consequence of the peace of 1801, he visited France and its capital. The next movement of Graham was to Ireland with his regiment, where he continued from 1803 to 180, at the end of which, his place of military service was transferred to the West Indies. Here he remained three years, but without that active employment which still continued to be the breath of his nostrils. At last a prospect of occupation occurred in 1808, in consequence of Sir John Moore being appointed to the command of the armament sent to the coast of Sweden; and having obtained permission to accompany Sir John as aide-de-camp, Graham joined the expedition. It ended, as is well known, in nothing, owing to the Quixotic freak of the Swedish king, who, instead of acting on the defensive, and fighting for life itself in his own territories thought of nothing less than rushing full tilt against the whole power of Napoleon; and on the refusal of Moore to co-operate with him, by taking the Russian empire as his share of the universal melee, he attempted to throw the British general into prison, so that the latter was obliged to hasten home with his reinforcements, without the opportunity of striking a single stroke. In this way Graham, after all his hopes, had only obtained a short trip to the Baltic, which was anything but a pleasant one. On the return of Sir John to England, he was forthwith commissioned upon his eventful expedition to Spain, and to that land of stirring adventure and change Colonel Graham accompanied him, still acting as aide-de-camp. He therefore participated in all the disastrous incidents of that most unfortunate campaign, without the opportunity of obtaining a commander’s full share in the glory with which its termination was crowned. But all that could be won by an aide-de-camp he merited and secured. He was affectionately remembered by Moore in his dying moments at Corunna, and one of the last questions of the expiring hero was, "Are Colonel Graham and all my aides-de-camp well?" The services indeed which the colonel rendered to the army during its retreat were such, that Sheridan thus described them in his place in Parliament: "In the hour of peril, Graham was their best adviser; in the hour of disaster, Graham was their surest consolation." After a long and laborious run before the French columns in hot pursuit, Graham embarked with the army at Corunna, after it had dealt such a parting blow at the pursuers as sent them reeling backwards. But he was soon to return to Spain under better auspices, and there achieve a victory that should be wholly his own.

This change, so gratifying to the heart of Colonel Graham, did not occur until nearly three years afterwards. During the interval, however, he was again to be connected with those unlucky expeditions of which, it might be thought, he had already obtained somewhat more than his proper quota. This was the Walcheren expedition, in which he held the command of a division, having been previously raised to the rank of major-general. It was a useless and hopeless campaign against malaria and pestilence; so that, during the siege of Flushing, he was attacked by the prevalent fever that so fearfully thinned the British ranks, and obliged to return home. On his recovery he was sent, with the brevet rank of lieutenant-general, to Spain, to take the command of the British and Portuguese troops in Cadiz. The situation of this important city was extremely precarious. Being one of the few remaining bulwarks of Spanish independence, its possession was keenly contested by the French; and a large army under Soult had so closely invested it, that its capture was daily anticipated. One of those rapid transitions, however, with which that was so largely abounded, averted the downfall of the city. This was the invasion of Estremadura, conducted by Soult in person at the head of 20,000 of the besieging force, leaving Victor, with the rest of the French army, to continue the siege. Soult’s brief campaign was one of the most brilliant episodes of the Spanish war: he captured Olivenza, routed Mendizabal at Badajoz, and obtained that powerful fortress by surrender; after which successes he prepared to return in all haste, and resume the siege of Cadiz. But during his brief absence Graham had been as alert and ready for action as himself; and, judging the opportunity best fitted for the purpose, he resolved to raise the siege by an attack upon Victor. With the French and Portuguese under his command, he embarked on the 21st of February, 1811, and landed at Tarifa on the day following. They then pushed forward on their route for Ahgesiras; but as they had no better road than a mule path, the artillery had to be transported by sea; and, owing to contrary winds, which delayed. its arrival, the attack, which was intended to be made on the 28th, was delayed for a week longer. And even this was the least of Graham’s difficulties in advancing to action. On the 29th he was joined by La Pena, with 10,000 Spaniards, who forthwith took the command, as if for the sole purpose of showing his utter incapacity to hold it. Graham too soon discovered the impracticability of such a colleague, who sometimes unreasonab1y hung back, and at other times drove on, as if the French were already defeated and in full flight. So inexplicable, indeed, were his movements, that the British officers suspected that treachery had been ingrafted upon his natural stupidity and obstinacy. At length the combined but ill-assorted army reached the memorable heights of Barossa, upon which Victor sallied from his lines to give them battle. Even at that critical moment La Pena must needs blunder, by requiring Graham to alter his excellent position from the heights to the wood of Bermeya, towards the sea-coast; and when the latter, in compliance, commenced the movement, La Pena immediately followed, thus leaving the ridge of Barossa, the key of the army’s position, undefended. Victor, who saw this change with astonishment, instantly moved his force of 9000 French veterans and fourteen guns to take possession of the heights. They advanced to the onset, and meeting with some of the Spanish troops who had not yet left the hill, they attacked and routed them in an instant. The fugitives directed their headlong flight to the British division, already in motion among the difficulties of the wood, and reported that the heights were won, and the enemy at their heels. Justly might Graham at this moment have left his worse than useless allies to their fate, and thought only of a retreat. But this neither suited his daring spirit nor warm-hearted generosity. With his own forces, upon which he could fully rely, he resolved. to give battle to the enemy, notwithstanding the advantages of their new position, and the suddenness of the emergency. His artillery, consisting of ten guns, was instantly wheeled round, and opened upon the enemy, already descending from the hill; while his infantry, hastily formed into two columns, was led to the charge. Under these untoward circumstances was commenced the battle of Barossa.

It is not our purpose to enter into the minute particulars of this conflict, forming, as it did, only an episode of the war. The double onset of the British lines was made with the utmost bravery, and met by the French with equal courage, so that for some time the hot and heady charges that were given and received on either side kept the battle in suspense over the whole field. At length a gallant charge of one of these lines, composed of the 87th and 28th regiments, broke the division of General Laval, that was opposed to it, and drove it back so successfully that they were unable to rally; while the capture of two guns and an eagle attested the success of the victors. The other British column, under General Dilkes, was equally brave and equally fortunate. This division, composed of the Guards and two regiments, mounted the brow of the hill, and was met half-way by the columns of General Ruffin. A desperate struggle ensued, that ended in the French being driven up to the height, and afterwards down the slope on the opposite side, with great slaughter. It was in vain that they rallied with their wonted promptitude, and united their two discomfited divisions into a single compact body, for the purpose of abiding a new conflict: as fast as they formed, the well-served British artillery tore their ranks, the 200 German horse in the British service followed the cannonade with a decisive charge, and at last the enemy yielded, with the loss of six guns and more than 2000 killed and wounded. And now Cadiz might have been saved had La Pena been true to his country. But this miserable imbecile, or traitor, or both, with his army of fully 13,000 Spaniards, looked on and did nothing; while Graham, with his small force of 4000 infantry and 200 cavalry, bore the whole brunt of the battle, and achieved a glorious victory. Even when the French were put to flight, had La Pena let loose upon them his 800 dragoons and powerful horse artillery, he might have completed the defeat of the enemy without their chance of rallying. But as it was, Victor fell back upon his old position undisturbed, and the return of Soult, which occurred soon afterwards, made the battle of Barossa useless, except as a stirring incentive to the British during the rest of the campaign. Thus had the Spaniards served Moore, and Wellington himself, as well as Graham; let their generous allies fight as bravely as they pleased, they still in every case refused to co-operate, or even did their best to make the services of their defenders useless. Was it Spanish pride, that could endure no glory but its own; or Spanish bigotry, that would not suffer a heretic general to be victorious? In the meantime, General Graham, unable to follow up his success, or even to maintain his ground single-handed, was obliged to return to the Isle of St. Leon. But this retrograde movement, which he made after victory, as well as his advance before it, were equally commended by Wellington, who was too well able, from his own experience in Spain, to judge of the necessity of such seemingly inconsistent changes. The affair of Barossa was also justly appreciated by Parliament, so that the thanks of both houses were voted to the general and his gallant companions in arms. In the reply of the veteran on this occasion, after stating his high estimation of the honour conferred on him, he added: "I have formerly often heard you, Sir, eloquently and impressively deliver the thanks of the house to officers present, and never without an anxious wish that I might one day receive this most enviable mark of my country’s regard. This honest ambition is now fully gratified, and I am more than ever bound to try to merit the good opinion of the house."

Having been relieved from his military duties at Cadiz in the summer of 1811, General Graham joined the army under the Duke of Wellington, where he was appointed second in command. But a complaint in his eyes, by the use of a telescope in the glaring atmosphere of Spain, and frequent writing by candle-light, obliged him to quit the army while it was employed in the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo. He returned to England, where he obtained a cure, after which he rejoined the British forces in the Peninsula, and commanded the left wing at the battle of Vittoria. His able services during this conflict were honourably mentioned in the despatch of Wellington on the occasion. After this he continued to share in the subsequent movements of the campaign, and commanded at the siege of St. Sebastian, where he obtained possession both of the town and castle—the former by capitulation, and the latter by storm. He also commanded the left wing of the British army when it crossed the Bidassoa into the territory of France, upon which he succeeded in obtaining a footing after a desperate resistance. In the following year (1814) he was appointed commander of the British forces in Holland, where he made an unsuccessful siege of Bergen-op-Zoom. It was no wonder that he should have failed against a fortress so strong, and so bravely and skilfully defended. Sir Thomas Graham had already shown that he was a brave, prompt, and effective soldier, fitted for all the emergencies of an open field, and able to win a decisive victory, even under untoward circumstances. But he had not learned war as a science; and to conduct such a siege would have required a thorough acquaintanceship with the whole mathematics of military service. It was only by such men as Bonaparte or Wellington that Mantua could have been reduced to a surrender, or Badajoz taken by storm. His failure at Bergen-op-Zoom, however, neither detracted from the estimation in which he was held, nor the public honours that awaited him; and in May, 1814, after having received the thanks of Parliament, he was raised to the peerage by the title of Baron Lynedoch, of Balgowan, in Perthshire, with a pension of 2000. He had previously, during his course of service, been created a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, and afterwards a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. He was also a Knight of the Tower and Sword in Portugal. But the return of peace also brought with it an honour of an exclusively peaceful character; this was the Lord Rectorship of the University of Glasgow, which was conferred in full senate, by the votes of the enthusiastic students, upon the chivalrous victor of Barossa.

The course of Lord Lynedoch’s life was now one of unobtrusive tranquillity. He had sought nothing more than forgetfulness amidst the din of war, and found in it rank and fame. In 1821, he received the full rank of general; in 1826, he was removed to the colonelcy of the 14th Foot; and in 1829, he was appointed governor of Dumbarton Castle, an office with a salary of only 170 attached to it, but still it has always been accounted of high honour in our country. "Sir William Wallace," said the valet of the Duke of Argyle, "was governor of it in the old wars of the English, and his grace is governor just now. It is always intrusted to the best man in Scotland."

The latter part of the life of Lord Lynedoch, as the infirmities of old age grew upon him, was spent chiefly in Italy; but the visit of her Majesty Queen Victoria to his native country so roused the ardour of the loyal old hero, that he hastened from Switzerland to pay his respects to her in person, in the ancient capital of her Scottish ancestors. This was the last public event of his life. He died at his residence in Stratton Street, London, on the 18th of December, 1843, in the ninety-fourth year of his age. As he was childless, his titles became extinct with his death, and his estates were inherited by his nephew.


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