Ralph Abercromby Biogragpy
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Sir Ralph Abercromby (sometimes spelled Abercrombie) (October
7, 1734 - March 28, 1801) was a British lieutenant-general noted
for his services during the Napoleonic Wars.
He was the eldest son of George Abercromby of Tillibody, Clackmannanshire.
Educated at Rugby and Edinburgh University, in 1754 he was sent
to Leipzig to study civil law, with a view to his proceeding to
the Scottish bar. On returning from the continent he expressed
a strong preference for the military profession, and a cornet's
commission was accordingly obtained for him (March 1756) in the
3rd Dragoon Guards. He served with his regiment in the Seven Years'
War, and the opportunity thus afforded him of studying the methods
of Frederick the Great moulded his military character and formed
his tactical ideas. He rose through the intermediate grades to
the rank of lieutenant-colonel of the regiment (1773) and brevet
colonel in 1780, and in 1781 he became colonel of the King's Irish
infantry. When that regiment was disbanded in 1783 he retired
Up to this time, he had scarcely been engaged in active service,
and this was due mainly to his disapproval of the policy of the
government, and especially to his sympathies with the American
colonists in their struggles for independence. His retirement
is no doubt to be ascribed to similar feelings. On leaving the
army he for a time took up political life as member of Parliament
for Clackmannanshire. This, however, proved uncongenial, and,
retiring in favour of his brother, he settled at Edinburgh and
devoted himself to the education of his children.
However, when France declared war against England in 1793, he
hastened to resume his professional duties. Being esteemed one
of the ablest and most intrepid officers in the whole British
forces, he was appointed to the command of a brigade under the
Duke of York, for service in the Netherlands. He commanded the
advanced guard in the action at Le Cateau, and was wounded at
Nijmegen. The duty fell to him of protecting the British army
in its disastrous retreat out of Holland, in the winter of 1794-1795.
In 1795, he received the honour of a knighthood of the Bath, in
acknowledgment of his services.
The same year he was appointed to succeed Sir Charles Grey, as
commander-in-chief of the British forces in the West Indies. In
1796, Grenada was suddenly attacked and taken by a detachment
of the army under his orders. Abercromby afterwards obtained possession
of the settlements of Demerara and Essequibo, in South America,
and of the islands of Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Trinidad.
He returned in 1797 to Europe, and, in reward for his important
services, was appointed colonel of the regiment of Scots Greys,
entrusted with the governments of the Isle of Wight, Fort-George
and Fort-Augustus, and raised to the rank of lieutenant-general.
He held, in 1797-1798, the chief command of the forces in Ireland.
There he laboured to maintain the discipline of the army, to suppress
the rising rebellion, and to protect the people from military
oppression, with the care worthy of a great general and an enlightened
and beneficent statesman. When he was appointed to the command
in Ireland, an invasion of that country by the French was confidently
anticipated by the English government. He used his utmost efforts
to restore the discipline of an army that was utterly disorganized;
and, as a first step, he anxiously endeavoured to protect the
people by re-establishing the supremacy of the civil power, and
not allowing the military to be called out, except when it was
indispensably necessary for the enforcement of the law and the
maintenance of order. Finding that he received no adequate support
from the head of the Irish government, and that all his efforts
were opposed and thwarted by those who presided in the councils
of Ireland, he resigned the command. His departure from Ireland
was deeply lamented by the reflecting portion of the people, and
was speedily followed by those disastrous results which he had
anticipated, and which he so ardently desired and had so wisely
endeavoured to prevent.
After holding for a short period the office of commander-in-chief
in Scotland, Sir Ralph, when the enterprise against the Dutch
Batavian Republic was resolved upon in 1799, was again called
to command under the duke of York. The campaign of 1799 ended
in disaster, but friend and foe alike confessed that the most
decisive victory could not have more conspicuously proved the
talents of this distinguished officer.
His country applauded the choice when, in 1801, he was sent with
an army to dispossess the French of Egypt. His experience in the
Netherlands and the West Indies particularly fitted him for this
new command, as was proved by his carrying his army in health,
in spirits and with the requisite supplies, in spite of very great
difficulties, to the destined scene of action. The debarkation
of the troops at Abukir, in the face of strenuous opposition,
is justly ranked among the most daring and brilliant exploits
of the English army. A battle in the neighbourhood of Alexandria
(March 21, 1801) was the sequel of this successful landing, and
it was Abercromby's fate to fall in the moment of victory. He
was struck by a spent ball, which could not be extracted, and
died seven days after the battle. His old friend and commander
the Duke of York paid a just tribute to the great soldier's memory
in general orders: "His steady observance of discipline, his ever-watchful
attention to the health and wants of his troops, the persevering
and unconquerable spirit which marked his military career, the
splendour of his actions in the field and the heroism of his death,
are worthy the imitation of all who desire, like him, a life of
heroism and a death of glory." By a vote of the House of Commons,
a monument was erected in his honour in St Paul's cathedral. His
widow was created Baroness Abercromby of Tullibody and Aboukir
Bay, and a pension of L. 2000 a year was settled on her and her
two successors in the title.
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