Marquis Cornwallis

The Most Noble Charles

Marquis Cornwallis,British General, American War of Independence


(31st December, 1738 – 5th October 1805)

THIS distinguished military commander, the lustre of whose character shone among the most brilliant of a preceding generation, and the importance of whose services occupied a large share of public honor and respect. was the son of an ancient and noble family. Lineally descended from Thomas Cornwalleys, who was sheriff of London in 1378, and settled at Brome, one of his ancestors was raised to the peerage in 1627. His father Charles, the fifth baron, was, in 1753, created also Viscount Brome and Earl Cornwallis He dying in 1762, was succeeded by the subject of this memoir, who, born 31st December, 1738, was consequently twenty-four years of age at the period of this event.

Destined from his infancy to the profession of a soldier, in which several of his progenitors had risen to high reputation, Charles entered the army at an early age; and his promotion was so rapid, that, when only twenty years old, we find him, as Lord Brome, holding a captain's commission in Colonel Crauford's regiment of light infantry. In 1761, he accompanied the celebrated Marquis of Granby to the continent, as a confidential Aid-de-camp, and fought by his side in the German campaign. Under him, and the other renowned generals of the day, he studied the art of war, and became acquainted with its practice in the field. He was soon appointed Lient.-Colonel of the 12th regiment of foot, and elected member of parliament for the borough of Rye. This representation he, however, vacated on the death of his father; and took his seat, of course, as Earl Cornwallis, in the upper house. In 1765, he was nominated one of the Lords of the Bedchamber; and, as a farther mark of royal favour, an Aid-de-camp to his Majesty. Nevertheless, his political conduct was independent and uncourtly ; for he frequently voted with the opposition, and, on one memorable occasion, stood in a minority of five, who dissented from the bill to secure the legislative power of Great Britain over the American colonies. In 1766, he was promoted to the Colonelcy of the 33d foot, which, during after years, he commanded in the unfortunate struggle with America, and held till the day of his death. Previously to the breaking out of this contest, he had married Miss Jones, daughter of James Jones, Esq. by whom he had a son and a daughter ; and of whom it is related, that she died of a broken heart, in consequence of the departure of her beloved husband for that scene, whither his duty called him, overbearing all her fond entreaties and influence.

In America, his Lordship acted as Major-General, under Sir William Howe, and proved himself to be an active and skilful officer. In November 1776, he landed with a detached corps on the Jersey shore; and, discovering that Fort Lee was abandoned, advanced into the country, and took possession of the province. The disastrous reverse of Trentown prevented his visiting England, as he proposed, at the end of the campaign; and in consequence of that event he returned from New York, to resume his military toils. In 1777, after some enterprising affairs, he evacuated the Jerseys, in obedience to General Howe's orders, and in July embarked with the Commander-in-chief on the Chesapeake expedition. In several of the subsequent actions, his Lordship took a prominent part. At the passage of the Brandy-Wine he was at the head of a considerable body of troops; and having succeeded in driving the enemy before him, he entered Philadelphia as a conqueror. From that time (24th September, 17770 till 1779, when he embarked in the rank of Lieutenant-General with Sir Henry Clinton, for the siege of Charlestown, he had no opportunities for the display of his talents. On the surrender of Charlestown, he occupied South Carolina with a body of about 4,000 men ; and in October fought a smart battle with General Gates, at the head of a superior force, animated by the recollection of the capture of Burgoyne. Here the British bayonet decided the fortune of the day: the enemy were beaten, and pursued many miles, leaving seven pieces of cannon, the greater portion of their baggage, and a thousand prisoners, in the hands of the victors.

Early in 1781, Lord Cornwallis having formed a junction with the American General Arnold, who had come over to the royalist side, endeavoured to bring his opponents, under the famous La Fayette, to action ; but they retreated towards the back settlements with so much celerity, that the attempt was altogether fruitless. It seems that Sir Henry Clinton, then apprehensive about New York, blamed the pursuit as imprudent ; which led to a coolness, and subsequently to a public dispute, between him and Lord Cornwallis. Soon after this, as is well known, Lord Cornwallis was compelled to capitulate, with his force at York Town, to the combined American and French army, under Washington and Rochambeau.

Upon this disastrous event, Lord Cornwallis returned home ; and, during the flagrant political warfare of 1782-3, he was deprived of the Lieutenancy of the Tower of London, to which he had been appointed several years before. and to which he was restored in 1784.

Some years of peace and repose ensued; but India now attracted a deep interest, from the cloud which hung over that vast peninsula, and the critical condition of the British empire there. A man fit to undertake the arduous charge being wanted, Earl Cornwallis was chosen to be Governor-General of Bengal. Scarcely had he reached India, when the celebrated war with Tippoo Saib commenced. At first the Madras government carried on the contest ; but it was soon perceived that the Governor-General himself was required in the field, to oppose the immense and well-organized army of the Sultan ; and accordingly his Lordship repaired to the scene of action on the 12th of December, 1790. A judicious feint, by Vellore, deceived Tippoo ; and the Anglo-Indian army, marching rapidly to the Mugloo pass, penetrated to Bangalore, without experiencing any important opposition. Bangalore was invested, and fell, in the face of the Sultan's army drawn up on the heights. Lord Cornwallis then resolved to proceed against Seringapatam, the capital of Tippoo's dominions ; within sight of which he arrived on the 13th of May, but it was found impossible to attempt its siege at this period. Our battering train was therefore destroyed, and the army retired to Bangalore. Early the next spring, the causes which had prevented the investment of Seringapatam having been removed, the British army once more appeared before that place, and forced the enemy to retreat from his strongly entrenched camp. Untoward events, however, over which our commander had no control, again intervened to retard its reduction ; and Lord Cornwallis was content to dictate terms to the Sultan, instead of utterly subduing him. Money and territory were the price of this treaty ; and two of Tippoo's sons were confided to the care of Lord Cornwallis, as hostages for its punctual fulfilment.

The war thus honorably terminated, his Lordship proceeded to England ; and on the 15th of August, 1792, was advanced to a Marquisate, under the title of Marquis Cornwallis. The illustrious Order of the Garter had been previously bestowed upon him : he was also admitted a Member of the Privy Council, and, in addition to his other high and efficient appointments, was nominated to the important office of Master-General of the Ordnance.

It might have been hoped, that a life so long devoted to services of the most trying kind, and to duties of the highest national responsibility, would now have been allowed a season of honored quiet. But the exigencies of the state, at no distant period, again needed the directing intelligence of such a man as Lord Cornwallis. The unhappy situation of Ireland, alluded to in another memoir in our present number, full of turbulence and disaffection within, and threatened by external invasion, demanded the care of an experienced statesman, the firmness of an accomplished soldier, and, above all, the humanity of a superior mind. All these were happily united in his Lordship, who, in 1799, as Lord-Lieutenant and Commander of the Forces, not only put down rebellion, and made prisoners of an invading enemy, but acquired an imperishable glory by the conciliatory wisdom and mercy of his measures. He restored the country to tranquillity, and reaped the universal gratitude and applause of the kingdom.

In 1804, Lord Cornwallis was a second time appointed Governor-General of India, whither he went ; but he did not long enjoy the eminent distinction. He died in that station on the 5th of October, 1805, thus terminating a valuable life, which for more than half a century had been ardently devoted to the public service, in the most distant parts of the world, and often in trusts of the most momentous nature.
His Lordship was succeeded by his son, the second Marquis, on whose death, in 1823, the Marquisate became extinct, and the earldom reverted to his brother James.