Robert Craufurd

British General

Robert CraufurdOne of Britain's most brilliant commanders was the aristocratic Scot, Robert Craufurd.

Short, but with a volcanic temper that earnt him the nickname "Black Bob", Craufurd was a harsh disciplinarian who did not tolerate weakness in any of his men.

During the infamous retreat towards Corunna, Craufurd stopped his Light Division to administer floggings in a successful bid to maintain discipline. He even ordered a soldier to drop an officer he was carrying across a river.

Rifleman Harris reports: "The sight of such a piece of effeminacy was enough to raise the choler of the general and, in a very short time, he was plunging and splashing through the water after them both.

"Put him down sir! Put him down! I desire you to put that officer down instantly."

To the drenched officer he then said: "Return back, sir, and go through the water like the others. I will not allow my officers to ride upon men's backs through the rivers - all must take their share alike here."

Craufurd joined the army in 1779 and rose to captain before being placed on half-pay four years later. He used the time to further his military studies and traveled through Europe seeing how other armies were training their troops.

Returning to Britain in 1787, he joined the 75th regiment and quickly found himself training it to travel to India and fight against Tippoo Sultan, a renegade Indian leader.

Craufurd's performance was well noted, but the fiery Scot resigned his commission when passed over for promotion to major. He returned to Europe and served as a liaison officer with the Austrians in Holland and Italy.

Joining the 60th he was a staff officer in Ireland (1798) and Holland (1799) and during the 1807 debacle in Buenos Aires, Craufurd was forced to surrender his brigade of light troops.

A year later he was with Sir John Moore in Spain and on the dreadful retreat to Corunna he commanded the British rearguard. He held his men together with an iron will that, backed by brutal force, saved thousands of lives.

Craufurd and his Light Brigade returned to the Peninsula in 1809 and, despite a soul-breaking 42 mile march (75 kilometres) in just over a day, missed the battle of Talavera.

In 1810, and with a now-reinforced division under his command, Craufurd led a celebrated defence along the Agueda River against French forces more than six-times his size. At the River Coa, however, his tactical sense let him down when he positioned his men badly and was almost cut off by Marshal Ney's troops.

Craufurd fought admirably at Bussaco and Fuentes de Onoro, where he helped rescue an about-to-be trapped British division and then won undying fame by pulling his men out under fierce assault from French cavalry. The retreat across two miles of open ground cost him some 50 men.

Craufurd was mortally wounded leading his men in the assault on Ciudad Rodrigo.

On the way to his funeral troops of his Light Brigade changed from their route to deliberately walk through a river as a mark of respect for their much feared, but loved, commander.

Rifleman Harris, a respected chronicler of the wars, said of his general: "I shall never forget Craufurd if I live to be 100 years, I think. He was everything in a soldier."

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