HC Deb 28 March 1811 vol 19 cc538-48
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose to submit to the consideration of the House, the motion of which he had given notice.

Lord Folkestone

spoke to order. He was the last man in the House who would rise to oppose the motion for giving the Thanks of the House to general Graham, who appeared to him eminently entitled to the gratitude of the country, but he rose merely to desire the House to consider the situation in which they were placed, by the new regulation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Through that regulation, the right hon. gent. or any minister, had it in his power to prevent any motion being brought forward on a certain day, as on the days on which notices took precedence of orders, he could claim the right of bringing on his motion before any other was made. In the present instance, he did not wish to interpose any obstacle to the thanks of the House being immediately given to general Graham, but he thought it right to call the attention of the House to this effect of the new regulation.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

hoped the House would permit him to say a few words on what had fallen from the noble lord. He had not claimed a right of bringing forward his motion before any other of which notice might have been given; but he conceived, that there was a something in that which he had to submit to their consideration, which would preferably engage their attention before any other business which stood fixed for the day. In this opinion he had been justified by the noble lord himself, as he had admitted that there was a something so peculiar in that which he had to bring forward, that he would not interpose any obstacle. Under such circumstances he thought if the regulation alluded to had never been in existence, the noble lord and every other person in that House would have given precedence to such a motion. It would be inconvenient to say more (though much more might be said) on what had been advanced, as it might prevent the question being met with that good-humoured unanimity which he hoped would prevail on the present occasion. In rising to submit to them a Resolution, that the thanks of the House be given to lieut. general Graham, to the officers, and to the gallant army under his command, for the late victory, than which a more brilliant military achievement was not upon record, he was confident he had no opposition to expect. If any difference could arise in any part, it would only be a contest, who should be most loud to express what must be equally felt by all. The task of bringing the subject forward, in devolving upon him, he was sensible had fallen into incompetent hands. From the information of which the House was already in possession, he was convinced their feel- ings on the subject were so much higher than they could be raised by any thing that he could say, that whatever came from him must be found to fall short of what was required by the occasion. He could do no more than bring the circumstances of the battle before the House, as it was his duty to do. He should not think it necessary to take up their time, by going into a detail of the movements which preceded the action. He wished, as much as possible, to confine himself to that which was most pre-eminently entitled to their gratitude and applause, because, though he thought much wisdom had been displayed by general Graham throughout the whole of the operation, yet that their might be no chance of a difference of opinion on such an occasion, he was anxious only to bring that forward on which no difference of opinion could by possibility exist. He wished only to bring before them the brilliant exertions of the army on the day of battle; and he was the more desirous of doing this, that contemplating those alone, their splendour should be in no way impaired. Passing over therefore the previous details, he at once should come to the 5th of March. The allied army had gained the heights of Barrosa at 12 o'clock on that day, after a most fatiguing march of more than 19 miles, and after having been 16 hours under arms. He thought it necessary to state this, as in consequence of such fatigue, the hardships they had to encounter were the more formidable, and the difficulties which they had to surmount had been increased by their having been bewildered on their way, and misled by their guides. A successful attack had been made by a Spanish army under general Lardizabel, on the rear of the enemy, near Santi Petri, a place about four miles distant from where our army was at that time. It was then thought by the Spanish general (general La Pena), that it was necessary to strengthen the position near the river; and in consequence general Graham was directed to march from Barrosa, through a wood, to Torre de Bermesa, about half way between Barrosa and the Santi Petri river. General Graham accordingly commenced his march towards that place.—Having marched about half way through the wood (a march of considerable difficulty), he learned that the enemy was in force in his rear and on his right flank, approaching to attack him from the heights of Barrosa, which he had just quitted. The post of Barrosa he had thought was sufficiently defended at the time he had left it, but on receiving this information he immediately counter-marched to support the force which had been left there, and which he had supposed capable of making head against the enemy. When, however, he arrived there, he found the enemy had made an impression, and obliged the troops stationed there to give way. He then perceived the enemy with a force at least double his own in number, ranged upon the heights most conveniently for themselves, and most inconveniently for him. His columns were broken, and his troops somewhat disordered by surprise, and the difficulties which opposed their march through the wood. Placed in this trying situation, General Graham had not been dubious how to act. He did not appear to have had any hesitation. The resources of his mind were equal to the emergency of the case. Without pausing on the subject, he resolved on attacking the enemy. He immediately arranged his artillery, which he placed under the direction of major Duncan. The cannon was brought forward, and a destructive fire was opened on the enemy. He formed his line as well as he could, and the right wing proceeded to attack the division of the French army under the command of general Rufin. The enemy were represented as confidently advancing with great eagerness to the battle, but the troops with whom they had to engage were worthy the general by whom they were commanded, and proved themselves as competent to execute as he was to plan. Their painful marches, their wants, and all their past toils were forgotten—no calculations of the dangers they had to encounter—no considerations of the difference between the two armies palsied their energies for a moment. They immediately made a vigorous attack on the right and left wings of the enemy, and scarcely was that attack made, before success began to shew itself on the side of the English. They had hardly opposed to the enemy what may be truly called "the British weapon," the bayonet, when victory appeared certain; and in less than an hour, the triumph was complete. Within the short space of an hour and a half from the commencement of the action, the enemy, unable longer to dispute the field, were in full retreat. The English were left in possession of every thing that could indubitably prove they were victorious. The six pieces of cannon—the three general officers—the prisoners amounting to between 4 and 500 remaining in our hands, and the two eagles, without one man being missing on our part—were circumstances which must necessarily remove every doubt as to the brilliant character of the victory. That the action was not attended with more continued success was to be ascribed to the excessive fatigue which the British troops had previously endured; and that the complete destruction of the French army was not the consequence of the victory, was to be lamented rather as an instance of ill fortune than as any thing else. That circumstance could by no means detract from the splendour of the triumph. He had now brought before the House the circumstances of the action, and, having done so, it only remained for him to submit the proposition of which he had given notice to the House. Any attempt on his part to excite warmer feelings, would, he was confident, be as idle and vain, as it must be felt to be unnecessary. Under these circumstances there-fore he would say no more, but content himself with making his motion. The right hon. gentleman then moved, "That the Thanks of this House be given to lieut. general Thomas Graham, for the distinguished ability displayed by him upon the 5th of March, in the brilliant action on the heights of Barrosa, which terminated in the signal and total defeat of the superior forces of the enemy."

Mr. Sheridan

felt himself fortunate in rising at that moment to have met the Speaker's eye, as he was earnestly desirous of the honour of seconding the motion which had just been made, and which had been submitted to the house by the right hon. gent. (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) with a degree of perspicuity, energy and feeling, which left little to be said by those who may be most zealously disposed to support his proposition. There was not one in the House, he was sure, but felt the same interest—but was anxious for the same honour. There could be no difference of opinion on such a subject. They must all vie with each other in the zeal, the unanimity, and the cordiality with which they offered their thanks to the brave general and his brave army. If there were any who thought we ought never to have embarked in the conflict in the Peninsula, or at least, that our wisdom and our policy should have limited our assistance to the grant of money and sup- plies, (which opinion he never entertained)—if there were others, who, after we had involved our faith and honour in the Spanish cause, thought that there was an Opportunity in which, consistently with that faith and honour, we could have withdrawn, (which opportunity he could never see)—if there was a third class (and to his regret and surprise there were some of this description whose high authority he much respected) who thought that the British nation could now wiht hold its aid—from them he differed more than from the other two. But let them think as they might upon those points, they could not possibly differ on the question before them. They must all vie in eager, ardent thanks to the brave general and the army he commanded. He hoped he should not be considered as intrusive, if on this question he intermingled something of his private feelings. He had known general Graham in private life; and never, no never, was there seated a loftier spirit in a braver heart. Alter many disappointments, borne as that man would bear them whose love of order and his country subdued his own ambition, general Graham at length obtained his long-withheld, long-merited reward. He became a soldier almost by accident, if, indeed, accident could be applied to such a circumstance. In the year 1793, a noble friend of his (Lord Mulgrave) lately at the head of the Admiralty, now at the head of the Ordnance—a friend with whom no difference of public politics ever created a private distention—had the command at Toulon; and he had declared in his official dispatches that the success against the besiegers, aided as they were by the talents of Buonaparté, was chiefly to be attributed to a private gentleman of the name of Graham. He was not then in the army. With a broken spirit from a domestic affliction, but an undaunted heart, he had rambled through those scenes, by his acquaintance with which he afterwards so essentially benefited our army. From that moment he became a soldier: why did he become a soldier? because he could render a service to his King and country. He then raised two battalions, and afterwards joined the Austrian army. There were few who were unacquainted with the assistance by which be contributed to the fall of Mantua, as with his almost miraculous escape from that city—an escape not effected by any disgrace to his profession or his country—not made as a spy in secret, but openly as a British officer, bearing the uniform of his King, and braving the vengeance of his enemies. At Malta he acted with the temporary rank of Brigadier-general; and so gallantly did he behave on that service, that General Pigott, who superseded him, declared he had little else to do than receive the surrender of the place. He then served in the Austrian campaign—a campaign, in which wherever danger was to be found, he was its companion. He next attended his ever-to-be lamented friend Moore to the Baltic, and after that to Spain. In that retreat general Hope, general Moore, and many other brave officers, bore witness, that in the hour of peril, Graham was their best adviser—in the day of disaster, Graham was their surest consolation. (Mr. Sheridan was here much affected.) The House must excuse me (said he), but I cannot help giving way a little to my private feelings amid the praises of my gallant friend (loud cries of hear! hear!). I must give the House a personal instance of that virtue which adorns the man, and dignifies the soldier. When he went into Spain, he carried with him the map of his estate in Scotland; and on that map, the ground his bed, and the camp-cloak his covering, he planned out future cottages, farms, nay villages, for his tenantry at home. Thus, even midst the toils of foreign warfare, this brave man could not for a moment forget the duties of domestic virtue and social tenderness. I have seen myself the memorial of this virtue, and I cannot think its recital unconnected with his present panegyric. No: these are the generous motives, these are the noble impulses, which, pouring out the soul in acts of private benevolence, in time turn into the stream of public honour, and adorn the valorous ardour of the patriot soldier. After the Spanish campaign, general Graham was raised in rank. He was a poor judge of when military honours ought to be conferred, or ought to be withheld; but' he could not help at this moment in gratitude recollecting, that the last act of the late Commander in Chief was the restoration of this gallant man to the service. It was the general sentiment of the whole army, that he was the best Commander in Chief they ever had; and this his last act, so far from raising a murmur, or exciting an envious feeling among his fellow-soldiers, gratified them all. He would venture to say, there was not an officer in, the service but felt a personal reward in the promotion of Graham. He gave praise to the duke of York, and he did so from his heart, because he thought it due; and after the unwearied attention which he had bestowed upon the army, he could not help saying, that no victory like this could be obtained without reflecting a considerable degree of its glory upon him. With respect to the brave men who had participated in this victory, he felt that the illustrious personage who now held the reins of government would make them his peculiar care. When he said this, he spoke not from an idea that any personal recommendation could sway him so much as his own generous anxiety to distinguish merit; and he was doubly proud in this consciousness, because he well knew his gallant friend could receive no reward from his victory more gratifying than the knowledge that those he had recommended were attended to. He should now conclude with the declaration, that he never in his life seconded a motion with more heartfelt satisfaction than the present.

General Hope

bore testimony to every thing that had fallen from the right hon. gent, and felt greatly indebted to him for the very able manner in which he had stated it. The right hon. gent. might have added to the other merits of his gallant friend, that to him was to be attributed, in a great measure, the surrender of Malta, and, in that respect, general Piggott did him but justice. He then went to Egypt, where he became the friend of the gallant sir Ralph Abercromby. Sir John Hope, who brought the last accounts from the field of Corunna, reported it to the Commander in Chief, as being the express wish of the gallant sir John Moore in his last moments, that, in the case of general Graham, there might be a departure from the general rule of the army. So far was sir John Moore convinced of the merits of this distinguished officer. The Commander in Chief, therefore, felt himself absolved from all those ties by which the service was in general regulated, and placed him in a situation where his merits might be serviceable to the country. The right hon. gent. had done nothing but justice to the late Commander in Chief, in ascribing to him a great portion of the energy and discipline of our army. He had greatly added to, and encouraged both. But here we owed to the late Commander in Chief, not only the discipline of the troops, but the possession of the Commander also.

General Ferguson

begged leave to express his cordial concurrence in the motion now before the House. The valour and discipline displayed in the action of Barrosa could not be too, highly rated. He congratulated the House upon the fresh instance of military conduct evinced by the Portuguese troops in that action, by which they had confirmed the auspicious promises held forth by them in the battle of Busaco. He had, upon a former occasion, expressed his doubts of any beneficial consequences being likely to result from the plan then proposed, respecting the officering and disciplining Portuguese troops. That opinion the subsequent conduct of the Portuguese had changed; and he did not now shrink from avowing that change of opinion, as a duty which he owed to himself as an officer, and to the public.

Lord Castlereagh,

in terms of suitable eulogium, commented upon the skill and bravery evinced by the General and troops, in the action of Barrosa. In a struggle such as that, in which they were now engaged with a formidable enemy, it was matter of no small encouragement to know, that in the event of any of those critical emergencies which the casualties of war must so often and so unexpectedly bring, to pass; it was no small encouragement to be able to rest satisfied, that in such a moment this country might securely rely upon those great energies in her military character, to be found at all times as well in the skill, devotion, and genius of her generals, as in the unconquerable valour and discipline of her armies. In addition to what he felt, in common with every one, upon this subject, he had also great personal satisfaction in knowing, that the honours of that most brilliant achievement devolved upon his friend general Graham, than whom never did man enter his profession with nobler zeal for the service. The peculiar circumstances under which he entered on it, though they debarred him from looking forward to the honours opened to those who proceeded through the more regular gradations, yet never had the slightest effect in damping his military ardour. That ardour burned in his bosom with as bright and as pure a flame when he was but colonel Graham, and expected to die colonel Graham, as it did now, when, happily for the destinies of England, his great military genius had been advanced to a more suitable, because a more elevated and extended sphere of action; amongst the many, he might almost say, the innumerable advantages which the army had derived from the uniform diligence and anxious care for their best interests evinced by his royal highness the late Commander in Chief, there were few for which the country had more reason to be grateful than that act by which his Royal Highness succeeded in obviating the difficulties which stood in the way of general Graham's promotion. The late Commander in Chief had strenuously advised his Majesty to wave the strictness of those regulations in favour of colonel Graham, and his Majesty was accordingly graciously pleased to dispense with those rules, which, though in that instance it had been thought advisable to dispense with, yet were founded in unquestionable wisdom, and generally necessary to the welfare of the army.

Mr. Fremantle

, after expressing his concurrence in the general expression of approbation at the skill and conduct of the general, and the steady valour and discipline of the army displayed in that action, was proceeding to enter into the question of the policy of the present mode of carrying on the war in Spain, when the House beginning to evince some symptoms of impatience, the hon. gent. said, that, as the temper of the House seemed averse to entering on that subject then, he should not press it, but reserve to himself some other opportunity for delivering his sentiments upon it.

General Tarleton

highly approved of the motion, and spoke in terms of the most unqualified praise of the promptitude, presence of mind, skill, and valour displayed by general Graham, as well as of the discipline and bravery of his little army. In the abundant stores of British glory he could find nothing of the kind to equal it.

Mr. Fuller

said, that all parts of the House agreed in attributing no small part of the causes which led to the general successes of our arms to the wise regulations of the late Commander in Chief: if that were so, and he had no doubt that it was, he hoped that his Royal Highness would at last be done justice to; he hoped he should soon hear of his being restored to the high situation he filled so well, and that he would again, and shartly too, be enabled to serve the army and the country as Commander in Chief. He hoped that this was not the country in which an innocent man could be written down, so as never to rise again. As to the present motion, there could not be a second opinion about it. Who was there that must not rejoice in giving his vote in favour of it? For his part, he could frankly own, that these were just the sort of motions he liked to hear in that House. There could be no doubt that they would soon have more of them, and he was sure he could never tire of them. So far from it, that he wished with all his heart such motions could happen every day.

The motion of Thanks to General Graham was then put and carried, nem. con.—The Chancellor of the Exchequer then moved, "That the Thanks of this House be given to brigadier general William Thomas Dilkes, and the several other officers, for their distinguished exertions on the 5th of. March, in the brilliant action on the heights of Barrosa, which terminated in the signal and total defeat of the superior forces of the enemy; and that lieutenant general Graham do signify the same to them.

"That this House doth highly approve of and acknowledge the distinguished valour and discipline displayed by the noncommissioned officers and private soldiers of the forces serving under the command of lieutenant general Graham, in the brilliant victory obtained on the heights of Barrosa; and that the same be signified to them by the commanding officers of the several corps, who are desired to thank them for their gallant and exemplary conduct," which were also agreed to, nem. con.