Archiver > CARMARTHENSHIRE > 1999-10 > 0940603411

From: "Richard James" <>
Subject: Picton
Date: Fri, 22 Oct 1999 15:43:31 +0100

The Death of Picton

The French columns were marching close up to the hedge, the English advanced
to meet them, and the muzzles of
their muskets were almost touching. Picton ordered Sir James Kempt's brigade
forward: they bounded over the
hedge, and were received with a murderous volley. A frightful struggle then
ensued: the English rushed with fury
upon their opponents, not stopping to load, but trusting solely to the
bayonet to do their deadly work. The French
fire had, however, fearfully thinned this first line, and they were fighting
at least six to one. Picton, therefore, ordered
General Pack's brigade to advance. With the exhilarating cry of "Charge!
Hurra! hurra!" he placed himself at their
head, and led them forward. They returned his cheer as they followed him
with a cool determination, which, in the
words of the Spanish chief Alava, "appalled the enemy"
The general kept at the head of their line, stimulating them by his own
example. According to the Duke of
Wellington's despatch, "This was one of tbe most serious attacks made by the
enemy on our position." To defeat it
was therefore of vital importance to the success of the day. Picton knew
this, and doubtless felt that his own
presence would tend greatly to inspire his men with confidence. He was
looking along his gallant line, waving them
on with his sword, when a ball struck him on the temple, and he fell back
upon his horse - dead. Captain Tyler,
seeing him fall, immediately dismounted and ran to his assistance: with the
aid of a soldier he lifted him off his horse;
but all assistance was vain - the noble spirit was fled.
The rush of war had passed on, the contending hosts had met, and none could
be idle at such a moment. Tyler,
therefore, placed the body of his lamented friend and general beneath a
tree, by which he could readily find it when
the fight was done; and he rode forward to report to Sir James Kempt the
loss which the army had sustained. That
general, as senior officer, immediately assumed the command of the division:
but 'Picton's intrepid example had done
its work. Animated by their gallant chief, the men fought with a degree of
fury which nothing could appal or resist: at
one moment formed into squares, they received and repulsed the dreadful
assaults of the lancers and cuirassiers; at
another deploying into lines, their vigorous arm and undaunted courage drove
back the enemy's masses at the point
of the bayonet."
How the British fought, and how they conquered upon this day, is already
fully recorded upon the pages of many
a history. As long as the name of Waterloo shall be repeated with national
exultation, so long will Picton's death be
remembered as one of the noblest of the sacrifices by which that victory was
When the sanguinary struggle had ceased, and the victorious English were
called back to the field of battle,
leaving the Prussians to pursue the enemy, Captain Tyler went in search of
the body of his old general, with feelings
which even the events of the day and its surrounding horrors could scarcely
moderate. Re found it easily. Upon
examination, the ball was discovered to have entered near the left temple
and passed through the brain, which must
have produced instant dissolution: after this, meeting with some resistance,
it glanced downwards, and was found
just under the skin near the articulation of the lower jaw.
Upon looking at the dress of Sir Thomas Picton in the evening of the 18th, a
few hours after his fall, it was observed
that his coat was torn on one side. This led to a further examination, and
then the truth became apparent - on the
16th he had been wounded at Quatre Bras; a musket-ball had struck him and
broken two of his ribs, besides
producing some further bodily, and it was supposed internal, injuries: but,
expecting that a severe battle would be
fought within a short time, he kept this wound secret, lest he should be
solicited to absent himself upon the occasion.
Regardless of every selfish consideration, he only divulged this secret to
an old servant, with whose assistance he
bound up the wound; and then, with a command over his feelings almost
incredible, he continued to perform his
arduous duties. The night of the 16th and the whole of the following day he
was in constant activity. By the morning
of the 18th the wound had assumed a serious aspect; but the assurance that
the French were about to attack the
British position roused every energy ofhis almost exhausted frame; he
subdued his bodily anguish; and when the
moment came which called for his great example, the hand of death, which it
is supposed was even then upon him
from the wound alluded to, could not, while sufficient life yet remained,
check for a moment his zeal and courage.

H. Robinson, The Life of Sir Thomas Picton 1835
Carmarthenshire FHS 1999

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