Lieutenant Colonel Charles Bevanweaponsandwarfare.comLieutenant Colonel Charles Bevan IWELLINGTON’S SCAPEGOAT: The Tragedy of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Bevan by Archie Hunter (Author) Lieutenant Colonel Charles Bevan was the key figure in an extraordinary, controversial and ul…weaponsandwarfare.comLieutenant Colonel Charles Bevan IIEscape of the French from Almeida, 10/11 May 1811 For Bevan any actual fighting was low level and desultory—he drew a fairly indecipherable map of the islands for Mary, which survives today. Luckil…
Thank you @john fortune that explains a lot, including why Wellington may have been reticent to have an inquiry.
"I have always been rather mystified at the rather charmed life Erskine led"
It probably did not hurt that Erskine's father, Sir William Erskine of Torrey, a distinguished soldier from the Seven Years War & AWI period much respected by George III, had been the Duke of York's confidante as well as a senior commander in the Low Countries in 1793-94, which service may have brought about his death in 1795. William Erskine, younger, by then Captain in 15th King's Light Dragoons had gone out as ADC to his father and then served with his regiment at Villers-en-Cauchies, subsequently the 15th KLD's first battle honour. He and the young duke were more or less contemporaries. He may have become something of a royal protegé.
@Kevin F. Kiley You are quite right, it is a matter of interpretation, but the as pointed out by @Zack White the "unfortunate mistake of road to Barba de Puerco by the 4th regt." seems fairly mild, hinting at misfortune rather than incompetency. However, the allowance of "if the 4th regt. had received the orders, issued at 1, before it was dark at 8 o’clock at night" puts Erskine slightly more firmly in the frame. After all, you have quoted it was the event that was called disgraceful, not the unit directly or it's commander.
It is a matter of debate whether Wellington denied Bevan an inquiry out of a sort of 'if the cap fits' sort of spite, or whether he simply thought he had better things to do, like beating the French.
I have always been rather mystified at the rather charmed life Erskine led, bearing in mind the opprobium generally heaped on him by memorialists.
For anyone interested in the Almeida episode and the participation of the 4th Foot commanded by LtCol Bevan, I would recommend Wellington's Scapegoat by Archie Hunter. Wellington did blame the 4th Foot, calling the episode 'the most disgraceful military event which has yet occurred in the peninsular wars.' (page 151 of the text).
If you blame the unit, then you have blamed the commanding officer of that unit. Was Bevan a scapegoat? That's up to interpretation, but Wellington's response to the escape of the French garrison, and without talking to Bevan personally, certainly laid the groundwork for blaming the 4th Foot and indirectly LtCol Bevan.
Having spent much of my 26 years in the military ‘piddling about in the dark’, I can attest that moving formed bodies of troops over rough or unfamiliar terrain is not as easy as it looks on paper! In the pre-GPS and Night Goggle era was bad enough, but at least we had reliable maps (with grid references), prismatic compasses and torches to read them by. We also had the benefit of extensive and thorough night-fighting training. Arguably, that was a key factor in the Falklands over the less familiar Argentines. Sketchy maps, relying on sometimes similar placenames and at best a lantern, at worst a candle. Night approach marches were not unknown, but to be successful usually meant thorough preparation, guides etc. This was an adhoc move, ordered late. Wellington would have been well aware of difficulties, so his rather muted language is understandable. As to the rest of the army, well it’s easy to criticise when you are not ‘Johnny on the spot’!, Even easier for historians to pour scorn from their armchairs.
BRENIER'S ESCAPE FROM ALMEIDA, 1811
S. G. P. Ward
Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, MARCH, 1957, Vol. 35, No. 141 (MARCH, 1957), pp. 23-35
Hopefully, this is viewable (never sure with JSTOR)
Interesting posts, thanks for sharing, as ever, Tom. I personally put more store in what Muir has to say on the matter though - the evidence of Wellington picking out Bevan as a scapegoat is pretty thin.