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Major-General Robert Craufurd (5 May 1764 – 23 January 1812) was a Scottish soldier and Member of Parliament (MP). After a military career which took him from India to the Netherlands, he was given command of the Light Division in the Napoleonic Peninsular War under the Duke of Wellington. Craufurd was a strict disciplinarian and somewhat prone to violent mood swings which earned him the nickname "Black Bob". He was mortally wounded storming the lesser breach in the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigomarker on 19 January 1812 and died four days later.

Early life

Craufurd was born at Newark Castle, Ayrshiremarker, the third son of Sir Alexander Crauford, 1st Baronet (see Crauford Baronets) and his wife, Jane Crokatt, and the younger brother of General Sir Charles Gregan Craufurd. He was educated at Harrow Schoolmarker (1779), and later at Göttingen Universitymarker (1787).

He entered the army as an ensign in the 25th Regiment of Foot in 1779, was promoted lieutenant in 1781, and captain into the 75th Regiment of Foot in 1783. He served with this unit in India in Lord Cornwallis's campaigns against Tipu Sultan between 1790 and 1792, establishing a reputation as a good regimental officer.

In the early 1790s, Craufurd returned to Europe and was employed on attachment, under his brother Charles, with the Austrianmarker armies operating against the French, remaining there after Charles was severely wounded. He returned to England in December 1797 and was promoted lieutenant-colonel. In 1798 he was appointed deputy quartermaster-general in Ireland, and his services during the suppression of the uprising there, especially his contribution to the operations against General Humbert's French corps, were praised by General Lake. In 1799 he acted as Britain's military attaché to General Suvorov's headquarters during his campaign in Switzerland. He served on the staff in the expedition to The Helder in the Netherlands. On 6 February 1800 he married Mary Frances Holland (d. 1842), daughter of the architect Henry Holland of Hans Place, Chelseamarker, Londonmarker. They had three sons and a daughter.

Later career

In 1802 he was elected MP for East Retford in Nottinghamshiremarker through the influence of his brother Charles, who had married the dowager duchess of Newcastle (whose family owned the borough).

Craufurd was promoted colonel on 30 October 1805 and gave up his seat in 1806 in the hope of going on active service. In 1807 he was sent to South America under General Whitelock and he took command of a light brigade, consisting of a battalion of the 95th rifle regiment and the light companies of several other battalions. His brigade led the advance upon Buenos Airesmarker and, in the attack on the city, achieved its objectives. However, on orders from Whitelocke, he halted and surrendered with the rest of the army. During this expedition he acquired a reputation as a leader of light troops and, in October 1807, sailed with Sir David Baird for the Iberian peninsula at the head of a light brigade. Baird's corps joined Sir John Moore's army at Mayorga on 20 December, and Craufurd's command was repeatedly engaged, especially at Castro Gonzalo on the 28th. On 31 December the light division was ordered to leave the main army for Vigomarker, where it embarked for England.

Plaque commemorating the death of Major General Robert Craufurd, at the site of the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain

In 1809 Craufurd returned to the Peninsula, with the rank of brigadier-general, to take command of the Light Division (43rd, 52nd and 95th). While on his way to join the army of Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the duke of Wellington), he heard rumours that during the battle of Talavera on 27–28 July, Wellesley had been killed. The march which followed is one almost unparalleled in military annals. The three battalions of the Light Division started in full marching order, and arrived at the front on the day after the Battle of Talaveramarker, having covered 62 miles on foot in twenty-six hours.

Beginning their career with this famous march these regiments and their chief, under whom served such men as Charles and William Napier, Shaw and Colborne, soon increased their reputation as one of the best corps of troops in Europe, and almost every engagement following added to their laurels.

Craufurd's operations on the Côa and Águeda in 1810 were daring to the point of rashness; the drawing on of the French forces into what became the Battle of the Côa in particular was a rare lapse in judgement that almost saw his removal from command. Although Wellington censured him for his conduct, he at the same time increased his force from brigade-strength to division-strength by the addition of two picked regiments of Portuguese Caçadores .

Craufurd's reputation for resorting to unnecessarily harsh treatment of his troops only increased during the peninsular war. His style of leadership was at times inconsistent with the function of the light infantry he commanded, who had been trained under Sir John Moore to operate more independently than conventional infantry of the day. Craufurd "stands out as a particularly fearsome martinet... [who] flogged his units into obedience, ensuring that they were more afraid of their officers than of any foe." In one diatribe delivered to the assembled division he insisted that they maintain straight lines of march regardless of the conditions of the terrain.
If I ever have any occasion to observe any man of the Brigade pick his road and go round a pool of water instead of marching through it I am fully determined to bring the officer commanding the Company to which that man belongs to Court Martial. Should the court acquit the officer it shall not deter me from repeating the same ceremony on any other officer again and again ...I will insist on every soldier marching through water and I will flog any man attempting to avoid it.

The winter of 1810-1811, Craufurd spent in England, and his division was poorly commanded in the interim by another officer, Sir William Erskine. When Craufurd reappeared on the field of the battle of Fuentes d'Onoro, it was to the cheers of his men. In the fighting the light division again played a distinguished part, covering the change of front which Wellington found it necessary to make when outflanked by the French.

Craufurd was promoted major-general on 4 June 1811 and, in the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo the following winter, led the light division in the attack on the smaller breach when the fortress was stormed on 19 January. At the very beginning of the assault he was mortally wounded in the abdomen and he was carried out of action by his staff officer, Lieutenant James Shaw-Kennedy of the 43rd, and, after lingering four days, he died on 23 January 1812. He was buried in the breach itself. His death was marked by tributes in both houses of parliament, and, at public expense, a monument was erected to him and General Mackinnon, who was killed in the same siege, in St Paul's Cathedralmarker, London.

One of the quickest and most brilliant, if not the very first, of Wellington's generals, he had a fiery temper, which rendered him a difficult man to deal with, but to the day of his death he possessed the confidence and affection of his men in an extraordinary degree. As his friend, the fellow soldier George Napier concluded:
Brilliant as some of the traits of his character were, and notwithstanding the good and generous feelings which often burst forth like a bright gleam of sunshine from behind a dark and heavy cloud, still there was a sullenness which seemed to brood in his innermost soul and generate passions which knew no bounds. (Napier, 225)

During the First World War, a Lord Clive class monitor was named for hims, HMS General Crauford


  1. Crauford p 2
  2. Crauford p 100ff
  3. Stephens, H. M. (2004). Craufurd, Robert (1764–1812), rev. David Gates. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press.
  4. Urban, M. (2003). Rifles: Six years with Wellington's sharpshooters, pp. 89-90. Faber and Faber.
  5. Crauford p 245ff
  6. Hibbert p 88f


  • Crauford, Alexander (Grandson of the general) General Crauford and his Light Division (reprint Naval and Military Press ISBN 1-845740-13-0)
  • Hibbert, Christopher (editor) The Recollections of Rifleman Harris The Windrush Press 1996 ISBN 0 900075 64 3
  • J. W. Cole, Memoirs of British generals distinguished during the Peninsular War, 1, 1856
  • D. Gates, The British light infantry arm, c.1790–1815, 1987
  • W. Cope, The history of the rifle brigade, 1877
  • G. Simmons, A British rifle man, ed. W. W. C. Verner, 1899
  • E. Costello, The adventures of a soldier 1841
  • W. Surtees, Twenty-five years in the rifle brigade, 1833
  • For more information visit[67287]

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