Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley

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Field Marshal Lord Wolseley

Garnet Joseph Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley of Cairo, (June 4, 1833March 25, 1913) was a British field marshal. He served in Burma, the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny, China, Canada, and widely in Africa - including his brilliantly executed Ashanti campaign (1873-74).

He was the eldest son of Major Garnet Joseph Wolseley of the King's Own Borderers (25th Foot.), he was born at Golden Bridge, Co. Dublin. Educated at Dublin, he obtained a commission as ensign in the 12th Foot in March 1852, and was transferred to the 80th Foot. with which he served in the Second Burmese War. He was severely wounded on the 19th of March 1853 in the attack of Donabyu, was mentioned in despatches, and received the war medal. Promoted to be lieutenant and invalided home, he exchanged into the 90th Light Infantry, then in Dublin.

He accompanied the regiment to the Crimea, and landed at Balaklava in December 1854. He was selected to be an assistant engineer, and served with the Royal Engineers in the trenches during the Siege of Sevastopol. He was promoted to be captain in January 1855 after less than three years' service, and served throughout the siege, was wounded at the Quarries on June 7, and again in the trenches on August 30. After the fall of Sevastopol Wolseley was employed on the quartermaster-general's staff, assisted in the embarkation of the troops and stores, and was one of the last to leave the Crimea in July 1856. For his services he was twice mentioned in despatches, was noted for a brevet majority, received the war medal with clasp, the 5th class of the French Légion d'honneur, the 5th class of the Turkish Mejidie and the Turkish medal.

After six months' duty with the 90th Foot at Aldershot, he went with it in March 1857, to join the expedition to China under Major-General Ashburnham. Wolseley embarked in the transport "Transit," which was wrecked in the Strait of Banka. The troops were all saved, but with only their arms and a few rounds of ammunition, and were taken to Singapore; whence, on account of the Indian Mutiny, they were despatched with all haste to Calcutta.

Wolseley distinguished himself at the relief of Lucknow under Sir Colin Campbell in November, and in the defence of the Alambagh position under Outram, taking part in the actions of December 22, 1857, of January 12 and 16, and the repulse of the grand attack of February 21. In March he served at the final siege and capture of Lucknow. He was then appointed deputy-assistant quartermaster-general on the staff of Sir Hope Grant's Oudh division, and was engaged in all the operations of the campaign, including the actions of Bari, Sarsi, Nawabganj, the capture of Faizabad, the passage of the Gumti and the action of Sultanpur. In the autumn and winter of 1858 he took part in the Baiswara, trans-Gogra and trans-Rapti campaigns ending with the complete suppression of the rebellion. For his services he was frequently mentioned in despatches, and having received his Crimean majority in March 1858, was in April 1859 promoted to be lieutenant-colonel, and received the Mutiny medal and clasp.

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1882 caricature from Punch

Wolseley continued to serve on Sir Hope Grant's staff in Oudh, and when Grant was nominated to the command of the British troops in the Anglo-French expedition to China in 1860, accom­panied him as deputy-assistant quartermaster-general. He was present at the action at Sin-ho, the capture of Tang-ku, the storming of the Taku Forts, the Occupation of Tientsin, the battle of Pa-to-cheau and the entry into Beijing. He assisted in the re-embarkation of the troops before the winter set in. He was mentioned in despatches, and for his services received the medal and two clasps. On his return home he published the Narrative of the War with China in 1860.

In November 1861 Wolseley was one of the special service officers sent to Canada in connection with the "Trent" incident. When the matter was amicably settled he remained on the headquarters staff in Canada as assistant-quartermaster-general. In 1862, shortly after the battle of Antietam, Wolseley took leave from his military duties and went to investigate the American Civil War. He befriended Southern sympathizers in Maryland, who found him passage into Virginia with a blockade runner across the Potomac River. He met Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and Stonewall Jackson, all of whom impressed him greatly.

In 1865 he became a brevet colonel, was actively employed the following year in connexion with the Fenian raids from the United States, and in 1867 was appointed deputy quartermaster-general in Canada. In 1869 his Soldiers' Pocket Book for Field Service was published, and has since run through many editions. In 1870 he successfully commanded the Red River expedition to establish Canadian sovereignty over the Northwest Territories and Manitoba. Manitoba had entered Canadian Confederation as the result of negotiations between Canada and a provisional Métis government headed by Louis Riel. The only route to Fort Garry (now Winnipeg), the capital of Manitoba (then an outpost in the Wilderness), which did not pass through the United States was through a network of rivers and lakes extending for 600 miles from Lake Superior, infrequently traversed by non-aboriginals, and where no supplies were obtainable. The admirable arrangements made and the careful organization of the transport reflected great credit on the commander, who on his return home was made a KCMG and a CB.

Appointed assistant adjutant-general at the War Office in 1871 he worked hard in furthering the Cardwell schemes of army reform was a member of the localization committee, and a keen advocate of short service, territorial regiments and linked battalions. From this time till he became commander-­in-chief Wolseley was the prime mover in practically all the steps taken at the War Office for promoting the efficiency of the army, under the altered conditions of the day.

In 1873 he commanded the expedition to Ashanti, and, having made all his arrangements at the Gold Coast before the arrival of the troops in January 1874, was able to complete the campaign in two months, and re-embark them for home before the unhealthy season began. This was the campaign which made his name a household word in England. He fought the battle of Amoaful on January 31, and, after five days' fighting, ending with the battle of Ordahsu, entered Kumasi, which he burned. He received the thanks of both houses of Parliament and a grant of £25,000 was promoted to be major general for distinguished service in the field, received the medal and clasp and was made GCMG and KCB. The freedom of the city of London was conferred upon him with a sword of honour, and he was made honorary DC.L of Oxford and LL.D of Cambridge universities. On his return home he was appointed inspector-general of auxiliary forces, but had not held the post for a year when, in consequence of the native unrest in Natal, he was sent to that colony as governor and general commanding.

In November 1876 he accepted a seat on the council of India, from which in 1878, having been promoted lieutenant-general, he went as high-commissioner to the newly acquired possession of Cyprus, and in the following year to South Africa to supersede Lord Chelmsford in command of the forces in the Zulu War, and as governor of Natal and the Transvaal and high commissioner of South-East Africa. But on his arrival at Durban in July he found that the war in Zululand was practically over, and after effecting a temporary settlement he went to the Transvaal. Having reorganized the administration there and reduced the powerful chief Sikukuni to submission, he returned home in May 1880 and was appointed quartermaster-general to the forces. For his services in South Africa he received the Zulu medal with clasp, and was made a GCB.

In 1882 he was appointed adjutant-general to the forces, and in August of that year was given the command of the British forces in Egypt to suppress the Urabi Revolt. Having seized the Suez Canal, he disembarked his troops at Ismailia, and after a very short and brilliant campaign completely defeated Arabi Pasha at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir, and suppressed the rebellion. For his services he received the thanks of Parliament, the medal with clasp, the bronze star, was promoted general for distinguished service in the field, raised to the peerage as Baron Wolseley of Cairo and Wolseley, and received from the Khedive the 1st class of the order of the Osmanieh.

In 1884 he was again called away from his duties as adjutant-general to command the Nile expedition for the relief of General Gordon and the besieged garrison of Khartoum. The expedition arrived too late; Khartoum had fallen, and Gordon was dead; and in the spring of 1835 com­plications with Russia over the Penjdeh incident occurred, and the withdrawal of the expedition followed. For his services be received two clasps to his Egyptian medal, the thanks of parliament, and was created a viscount and a knight of St Patrick. He continued at the War Office as adjutant-general to the forces until 1890, when he was given the command in Ireland. He was promoted to be field marshal in 1894, and was nominated colonel of the Royal Horse Guards in 1895, in which year he was appointed by the Unionist government to succeed the Duke of Cambridge as commander-in-chief of the forces. This was the position to which his great experience in the field and his previous signal success at the War Office itself had fully entitled him. His powers were, however, limited by a new order in council, and after holding the appointment for over five years, he handed over the command-in-chief to Earl Roberts at the commencement of 1901. The unexpectedly large force required for South Africa, was mainly furnished by means of the system of reserves which Lord Wolseley had originated; but the new conditions at the War Office were not to his liking, and on being released from responsibility he brought the whole subject before the House of Lords in a speech.

Lord Wolseley was appointed colonel-in-chief of the Royal Irish Regiment in 1898, and in 1901 was made gold­stick in waiting. He married in 1867 Louisa, daughter of Mr A. Erskine, his only child, Frances, being heiress to the viscountcy under special remainder.

A frequent contributor to periodicals, he also published The Decline and Fall of Napoleon (1895), The Life of John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough to the Accession of Queen Anne (1894), and The Story of a Soldier's Life (1903), giving in the last-named work an account of his career down to the close of the Ashanti War.

He died on March 26, 1913, at Mentone, France.

Preceded by:
HH Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar
Commander-in-Chief, Ireland
Succeeded by:
The Lord Roberts of Kandahar
Preceded by:
HRH The Duke of Cambridge
Commander-in-Chief of the Forces
Succeeded by:
The Lord Roberts of Kandahar

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