1902 Encyclopedia > Charles James Napier

Sir Charles James Napier
English general

SIR CHARLES JAMES NAPIER (1782-1853), the acknowledged hero of a family of heroes, was born at Whitehall, London, in 1782, and was the eldest son of Colonel George Napier, of the Guards (a younger son of the fifth Lord Napier), and of his wife Lady Sarah Lennox- the Lady Sarah who had charmed King George III. After the custom of those times Charles Napier had been gazette an ensign in the 33d regiment in 1794, and in 1797 his father secured for him the appointment of aide-de-camp to Sir James Duff, the general commanding the Limerick district. Longing for more active service, Napier obtained a commission as lieutenant in Manningham’s rifles in 1800. This newly formed corps was designed to supply a body of light troops for the English army fir to cope with the French voltigeurs and tirailleurs, and was specially trained at first under the eye of Colonel Manningham, and then in the famous amp at Shorncliffe, under the immediate supervision of Sir John Moore. Moore speedily perceived the military qualities of the Napiers, and inspired the three elder brothers – Charles, George, and William – wit an enthusiasm which lasted all their lives; but, though happy in his general. Charles Napier quarreled bitterly with William Stewart, the lieutenant-colonel, and in 18036 left the regiment to accompany General Fox to Ireland as aide-de-camp. The great influence of his uncle, the duke of Richmond, procured him in 1804 a captaincy in the staff corps, and in the beginning of 1806 a majority in the Cape regiment. On his way to the Cape, however, he exchanged into the 50th regiment, with which he served in the short Danish campaign under Lord Catheart in 1807.sahorthly after his return from Denmark the 50th was ordered to Portugal, and shared all the famous retreat to Corunna. At the battle of Corunna, one of the last sights of Sir John Moore before he was struck was the advance of his own old regiment under the command of Charles Napier and Edward Stanhope, and almost his last words were "Well done, my majors!" Being badly supported form the right, the 50th were almost entirely cut to pieces, and both the majors left for dead upon the field. Napier’s life was saved by a French drummer named Guibert, who brought him safely to the headquarters of Marshal Soult. Soult treated him with the greatest kindness, and he was allowed by Ney to return to England to his "old blind mother" instead of being interned. He had not been long in England when he heard that his exchange had been arranged, and, volunteering for the Peninsula, he joined the light division before Ciudad Rodrigo. As a volunteer he served in the actions on the Coa, and again at Busaco, where he was badly wounded in the face. He was ordered to England, but refused to go, and was present with the light division in all the actions which took place during Weelington’s pursuit of Massaéna. His services were rewarded soon after by the lieutenant-colonelcy of the 102d regiment, which had been entirely demoralized at Botany Bay , and when he joined it at Guernsey was one of the worst regiments in the service; when he left it in 1813 it was one of the best. He accompanied it in June 1812 from Guernsey to Bermuda, where he wrought a wonderful change in the spirit both of officers and men. By treating his men as friends he won their love and admiration, and became in a peculiar degree the hero of the British soldiers. In September 1813 he exchanged back into the 50th regiment, and in December 1814, believing all chance of active service t be at an end, retired on half-pay. He was gazetted one of the first C.B.’s on the extension of the order in 1814, and was present as a volunteer at the capture of Cambray. Though he just missed the great battle of Waterloo. Though an officer of some experience and more than thirty years of age, he now joined the military college at Farnham, and completed his military education. In 1819 he was appointed inspecting field officer at Corfu. From Corfu he was moved in 1822 to Cephalonia, where he remained for eight years as governor and military resident. What he did there he has described in a book of his own, and now he loved the place is shown by his wish to the very end of his life to return and die there. He was the model of a despotic colonial governor, and showed all the qualities of a benevolent despot. He made good roads and founded great institutions, but everything must be done by him, and he showed himself averse to interfere whether from the lord high commissioner of the Ionian Islands or from the inhabitants of his won little colony. An interesting episode in his command was his communication with Lord Byron when he touched at Cephalonia on his way to his death at Missolonghi, and the insurrection of the Greeks, who would have called him to be their commander-in-chief had the Greek, committee in London encouraged his pretensions. But at last his struggled with the authorities of the colonies grew to such a pitch that in 1830 he was obliged to leave Cephalonia. He retired to Normandy, where he published his work on the colonies, and also an historical romance on William the Conqueror. In 1834 he refuse the governorship of Australia, still hoping for military employment. In 1837 he was promoted major-general with his brother George, and in 1838 was made a K.C.B.; but he was to wait till 1839 before he received an offer of employment. In that year he was made commanding officer in the northern district, and found his command no sinecure, owing to the turbulent state of the Chartists in the towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire. His behaviour during the tenure of his command is described by William Napier in his life of his brother, and his inability to hold a command which did not carry supreme authority is plainly portrayed. In 1841, to the content of the Government, he resigned his command and went to India. He was stationed at Poona, and in September 1842, when troubles were expected there, was ordered to Sind.

His command in Sind from 1842 till August 1847 is the period of his life during which according to his brother, he made good his title to fame, but his acts, more especially at first, have been most severely criticized. In fact there can be little doubt that from the moment he landed in the province he determined to conquer the ameers,and to seek the first opportunity of doing so. He was be accompanied by Colonel Outram, who had been resident in Sind during the Afghan war, and who felt agreat admiration for him, but who had also a warm affection for the ameers, and believed that he could put off the day of their destruction. On Feb. 15, 1843, Outram was treacherously assailed at Hyderabad, and on the 17th Napier attacked the Baluch army 30,000 strong with but 2800 men. With these 2800 men, including the 22d regiment, which would do anything for him, he succeeded in winning the victory of Meance. It was a battle of the olden type, in which generals had to fight like privates. Sir Charles was in his element, and himself engaged in the fray. In the March he finally destroyed the army of the ameers at the battle of Hyderabed. His success was received with enthusiasm both by the governor-general, Lord Ellenborough, and by the English people, and he was at once made a G.C.B. The conqueror of Sind now had an opportunity to prove his administrative powers, and proceeded to apply the same material means of civilization to Sind which had formerly been successful in Cephalonia. Whether or not the conquest of Sind at that particular period can be justified, there can be no doubt that Charles Napier was the best administrator who could be found for the province when conquered. Sind, when it came under English rule, was in a state of utter anarchy, for the Baluches had formed a military government not unlike that of the Mamelukes in Egypt, which had been extremely tyrannical to the native population. This native population was particularly protected by Sir Charles Napier, who completed the work of the destruction of the Baluch supremacy which he had commenced with the victory of Meancee. The labour of administration was rendered more difficult by the necessity of repressing the hill tribes, which had been encouraged to acts of lawlessness by the licence which followed the Afghan war. The later years of his administration were made very stormy by the attacks on the policy of the conquest which had been made in England. He left Sind, after quarrelling with every authority of the presidency of Bombay, and nearly every authority of the whole of India, in August 1847, and received a perfect ovation on his return from all the hero-worshippers of the Napiers, of whom there were many in England.His short stay in England was occupied with incessant struggles with the directors of the east India Company; but, however much the directors hated him, it was not long before they had to beseech him in humble terms to become their commander-in-chief. The news of the indecisive victory of Chillianwalla created a panic in England, and the East India Company was obliged by the force of public opinion to summon the greatest general to take the command of its armies. Sir Charles started almost at a moments notice, but on reaching India found that the victory of Gujrat had been won and the Sikh war was over. No taint of envy was in his nature, and he rejoiced that he had not to supersede Lord Gough in the moment of defeat. His restless and imperious spirit was met by one equally imperious in the governor-general, Lord Dalhousie. From the very beginning of his command the governor-general and the commander-in-chief disagreed, and in April 1850 Sir Charles was reprimand on some trifling point of discipline. The reprimand was reiterated by the duke of Wellington, and in December 1850 Napier once more left for England. His constitution was undermined by the Indian climate, and especially by his fatiguing command in Sind, and on august 29, 1853, he died at Portsmouth.

Charles James Napier, recognized by his brother as the greatest representative of the Napiers, though without the literary genius of his brother William, had all the restless energy which distinguished the whole family, -- the same impatience of command and contradiction, the same power of inspiring the people with a reverential enthusiasm which impressed even the dullest. At Meanee he showed himself to be a gallant general; but he was also a great soldier. Possibly he had not the coolness which forms a Wellington, but he had the power of inspiring his soldiers, with an enthusiastic love and admiration, which Wellington could never inspire. Besides being a great soldier he was a very great soldier he was a very great administration, and both in Cephalonia and in Sind proved what work a man never fatigued and never afraid of responsibility could do. The most discussed question in his life is the conquest. There can be no doubt that the conquest was disapproved by statesman in England. Mr Gladstones’ own testimony is to the effect that the conquest of Sind ‘was diapproved unanimously by the cabinet of Sir Robert Peel, of which I can speak, as I had just entered it at that time. But the ministry were powerless inasmuch as the mischief of retaining was less than the mischief of abandoning it, and it remains an accomplished fact" (Contemporary, Review, November 1876). But that the mischief was not greater was due to Sir Charles’s administrative power. Many men have been gallant generals, great soldiers, and even great administrators, but no man of the 19th century was a hero as well, and it is the heroic side of his character which it is most difficult to analyse, and most easy to perceive. It appears all thorough Sir William Napier’s life of his brother, but it is most clearly and trenchantly brought out in a letter of Carlyle to the biographer. "The fine and noble qualities of the man are very recognizable to me: his subtle piercing intellect turned all to the practical, giving him just insight into men and into things; his inexhaustible adroit contrivances, his fiery valour, sharp promptitude to seize the good moment that will not return. A lynx-eyed fiery man, with the spirit of an old knight in him, more of a hero than any modern I have seen for a long time."

The chief authority for Sir Charles Napier’s life is his Life and Opinions, by his brother, 1857’ consult also MacCall, Career and Character of C.J. napier, 1857; and M’Dougall, General Sir C.J. Napier, Conqueror and Governor of Scinde, 1860. His own works are Memoir of the roads of Cephalonia, 1825; The Colonies, 1833; Colonization, 1835; remarks on Military Law and the Punishment of Flogging, 1837; A Letter on the Defence of England by Corps of Volunteers and Militia, 1852; A Letter to the Right Honourable Sir J. C. Hobhouse on the Baggage of the Indian Army, 1849; Defectsm Civil and Military, of the Indian Sir. W. Napier, 1858. On Sind, consult primarily Sir W. Napier, The Conquest of Scinde, 1845; The Administration of Scinde, 1851; Compilation of General Orders issued by Sir C. Napier, 1850; and Outram, The Conquest of Scinde, a Commentary, 1846. For his command-in-chief, and the controversy about his resignation, consult J. Mawson, Records of the Indian Command of Genral Sir C.J. Napier, Calcutta, 1851; Minutes on the Resignation of the late General Sir C. Napier, by Field-Marshal the Duke of Wellington, &c., 1854; Comments by Sir W. Napier on a Memorandum of the Duke of Wellington, 1854; and Sir William Napier, General Sir C.Napier and the Directors of the east India Company, 1857 (H.M.S)

The above article was written by: H. M. Stephens.

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