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Item:  BSL - HILL-1811-DECEMBER 26TH-PORTALEGRE

 

GENERAL VISCOUNT ROWLAND HILL - (ALS)

SCARCE WAR DATE LETTER FROM THE PENINSULAR WAR
DATELINE: PORTALEGRE  -  26 DECMBER 1811
3 page Autograph Letter Signed (ALS)

General Rowland Hill, 1st Viscount Hill of Almaraz and Hawkstone, GCB, GCH, served throughout the Napoleonic Wars, as a trusted Brigade, Division and later Corps commander under the command of the Duke of Wellington. He became Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in 1829.

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Wellington has this to say about his most reliable of commanders, "The best of Hill is that I always know where to find him." A trusted Commander, Wellington and Beresford often gave him independent commands and he was present in the Peninsula from the first action at Vimeiro in 1808, through Moore's Coruna campaign, Talavera, and all the way to the walls of Toulouse in April of 1814. He later again distinguished himself at Waterloo.

Transcription:



Portalegre Dec 26th 1811

My dear Sir
     I beg to return you my thanks for sending a Courier with Lord Liverpool's Letter, which arrived yesterday Ev[enin]g about Six
     I have now the honor to acquaint you that the Alien Troops under my command are this day in movement upon Alburquerque from which point I shall proceed directly on Merida, in hopes of being able to make a diversion in favor of Genl Ballesteros and Tarifa. The Enemy occupies Merida with about 1,500 men and Drouet has his Head Quarters Almendralejo.
      I have the honor to be yours very faithfully 

                                                                                            R[owland] Hill


[To] His E[xcellen]cy Cha[rle]s Stuart

NOTES

     An interesting and rich campaign letter. In the fall of 1811, Wellington placed Hill in independent command of 16,000 men watching Badajoz. On October 28, 1811 he annihilated a French detachment under Girard at the Battle of Arroyo dos Molinos. His surprise attack was so successful he only suffered 65 casualties to the French's 1300 killed, wounded and captured. In response to this victory, he would be promoted to Lieutenant General effective January 1812 and would be made a Knight of the Bath in March, the proclamation for which was personally delivered by his old friend, Lieutenant General Thomas Graham, Lord Lynedoch (see below notes for more on this relationship). It is possible that the Lord Liverpool (then British Prime Minister) letter referred to, was one extending the thanks of the King and Parliament and noting his coming advancement in rank as of January.
     With Wellington and Marmont (who had replaced Massena in May of 1811) both tied down in a stalemate around Ciudad Rodrigo, Wellington looked for another opportunity to strike. "News arrived that a division of D'Erlon's Corps was isolated on the north bank of the Tagus. Rowland Hill was sent against them with 10,000 men, British, Portuguese and Spanish. A complete brigade was surprised at Arroyo dos Molinos on 28 October. Hill returned with 1,300 prisoners and three guns." (Glover, The Peninsular War)
     This was a critical moment for Wellington who was preparing to launch his initiative to retake first Ciudad Rodrigo and then Badajoz. Just as Wellington knew he needed to control both fortress gateways into Spain, Napoleon also realized the need for his Armies to resume the initiative and ordered Marmont to attack west from Badajoz and take the Fortress at Elvas. However, Napoleon then countermanded his own orders and set forth the capture of Valencia on Spain's east coast as the higher priority. So rather than reinforce Marmont at this critical juncture, Marmont actually had to reduce his forces by 14,000, sending 4,00 back to France and 10,000 to Suchet and the Army of Aragon. The French Armies of the North and Centre were similarly depleted. By Christmas Wellington realized that French troops were moving east to Valencia and by year end ordered the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo to commence. At this same time it was essential that Hill again create a massive nuisance in the vicinity of Badajoz to prevent French reinforcements from that quarter. Thus this letter finds Hill's plans to move
"upon Alburquerque from which point I shall proceed directly on Merida, in hopes of being able to make a diversion in favor of Genl Ballesteros and Tarifa. The Enemy occupies Merida with about 1,500 men and Drouet has his Head Quarters Almendralejo." Hill's movement would not only help Wellington to the North, but also Spanish General Ballesteros who was harassing Soult in Andalusia. A very scarce wardate autograph signed letter by one of the pre-eminent Generals of the Napoleonic War.
     The reference to Drouet is to Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Count D'Erlon. D'Erlon had fought with Napoleon at Jena and Friedland. He commanded the IX Corps in the Army of Portugal under Massena and then Marmont. He commanded the Armies of Portugal and the Centre alternately 1812-1813, was Commander of the Centre 1813-1814, and was a Corps Commander at Waterloo. He later became the Governor of Algeria and a Marshall of France. See map below for place references.


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Biographical Note

General Rowland Hill, 1st Viscount Hill of Almaraz, GCB, GCH
(11 August 1772 - 10 December 1842)

     British general, was the second son of (Sir) John Hill, of Hawkstone, Shropshire, and nephew of the Rev. Rowland Hill (1744-1833), was born at Prees Hall near Hawkstone on the 11th of August 1772. He was gazetted to the 38th regiment in 1790, obtaining permission at the same time to study in a military academy at Strasburg, where he continued after removing into the 53rd regiment with the rank of lieutenant in 1791. In the beginning of 1793 he raised a company, and was promoted to the rank of captain. The same year he acted as assistant secretary to the British minister at Genoa, and served with distinction as a staff officer in the siege of Toulon. It was here that he met Sir Thomas Graham and the older man appreciated the talents the 21-year-old displayed there. When Graham formed his own regiment he asked Hill to be its colonel and he commanded it in Egypt. A brigade command followed in Hannover.
     Hill took part in many minor expeditions in the following years. In 1800, when only twenty-eight, he was made a brevet colonel, and in 1801 he served with distinction in Sir Ralph Abercromby's exp
edition to Egypt, and was wounded at the battle of Alexandria. He continued to command his regiment, the 90th, until 1803, when he became a brigadier-general. During his regimental command he introduced a regimental school and a sergeants' mess. He held various commands as brigadier, and after 1805 as major-general, in Ireland. In 1805 he commanded a brigade in the abortive Hanover expedition. In 1808 he was appointed to a brigade in the force sent to Portugal, and from Vimeiro to Vittoria, in advance or retreat, he proved himself Wellington's ablest and most indefatigable coadjutor. He led a brigade at Vimeiro, at Corunna and at Oporto, and a division at Talavera (see Peninsular War). His capacity for independent command
as fully demonstrated in the campaigns of 1810, 1811 and 1812. In 1811 he annihilated a French detachment under Girard at Arroyo-dos-Molinos, and early in 1812, having now attained a rank of lieutenant-general (January 1812) and became a K.B. (March), he carried by assault the important works of Almaraz on the Tagus. Hill led the right wing of Wellington's army in the Salamanca campaign in 1812 and at the battle of Vittoria in 1813. Later in this year he conducted the investment of Pamplona and fought with the greatest distinction at the Nivelle and the Nive. In the invasion of France in 1814 his corps was victoriously engaged both at Orthez and at Toulouse.
     On December 13, 1813, during the Battle of the Nive, Hill performed what may have been his finest work in his defense of St-Pierre d'Irube. With his 14,000 men and 10 guns isolated on the east bank of the Nive by a broken bridge, Hill held off the attacks of Marshal Nicolas Soult's 30,000 soldiers and 22 guns. He fought the battle with great skill and "was seen at every point of danger, and repeatedly led up rallied regiments in person to save what seemed like a lost battle ... He was even heard to swear." Later, he fought at the Orthez and Toulouse. Wellington said, "The best of Hill is that I always know where to find him."
     Hill was one of the general officers rewarded for their services by peerages, his title being at first Baron Hill of Almaraz and Hawkstone, and he received a pension, the thanks of parliament and the freedom of the city of London. For about two years previous to his elevation to the peerage, he had been M.P. for Shrewsbury. In 1815 the news of Napoleon's return from Elba was followed by the assembly of an Anglo-Allied army (see Waterloo Campaign) in the Netherlands, and Hill was appointed to one of the two corps commands in this army. At Waterloo he led the famous charge of Sir Frederick Adams's brigade against the Imperial Guard, and for some time it was thought that he had fallen in the mle. He escaped, however, without a wound, and continued with the army in France until its withdrawal in 1818.
     Hill lived in retirement for some years at his estate of Hardwicke Grange. He carried the royal standard at the coronation of George IV. and became a full general in 1825. When Wellington became premier in 1828, he received the appointment of General Commanding-in-Chief, and on resigning this office in 1842 he was created a viscount. He died on the 10th of December of the same year. Lord Hill was, next to Wellington, the most popular and able soldier of his time in the British service, and was so much beloved by the troops, especially those under his immediate command, that he gained from them the title of "the soldier's friend" and "Daddy Hill". He was a G.C.B. and G.C.H., and held the grand crosses of various foreign orders, amongst them the Russian St George and the Austrian Maria Theresa.
 

A Contemporary Journal, the London Review of January 1812, featured General Hill as its engraved frontispiece and, by way of its lead feature article, had the following to say of his exploits to that point.:

 

     LIEUTENANT-GEN: ROWLAND HILL, who is Colonel of the 9th regiment of foot is the fourth son of the Sir John Hill, baronet. He was born August 11th, 1772; and, following the military impulse of his disposition, he entered the army at an early period of his life; his ardour in the pursuit of professional knowledge, his suavity of manners, and general good conduct as a soldier, have not only procured to him the approbation and friendship of the commanders under whom, through many active and severe campaigns, he has served, but also endeared him to the other officers and privates ; the latter of whom not only honour and revere him as their superior, but gratefully esteem him as a benevolent friend, anxious to render them every service in his power, and, in every situation and change of circumstances to which a military life is, in active service, liable, particularly attentive to their accommodation.
     The expedition to Egypt, which, in our opinion, was as ably planned as it was courageously and vigorously executed. gave to the war, which had before assumed every other form that is to be found in ancient or modern history, a new character. Our brave countrymen had, already, contended with their Gallic enemies in the north and the south of Europe; they had conquered them on the coast of the Baltic, and at the foot of the Apennines: they had chased them from the plains of Hindoostan: had captured their West Indian Islands; and it was now destined that they should oppose them in Africa, the only quarter of the globe wherein they had not hitherto been repulsed. The various events of the Egyptian War have been so often before the public, and are, in more than one historical series, so amply and correctly detailed, that it is unnecessary more particularly to advert to them, than merely to state that, in that arid soil, where the only flourishing productions were British laurels, General Hill gathered his full share. He partook of the toils, contributed to the conquests, and, with the other heroes of that expedition, was honoured with the applause of his country.
    The war of the Peninsula displayed General Hill as equally active. In the glorious battle of Talavera he particularly distinguished himself; and, after repulsing the French, in repeated attacks, was wounded, though, fortunately, very slightly; the battle was, notwithstanding, continued through the whole of the night; and, in the general orders, issued August 18, 1809, he, with the general and other officers, had the satisfaction to learn that their conduct was marked with the approbation of their sovereign. On this occasion he, with the army and navy, also received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament.   When these thanks were moved in the House of Commons, the Chancellor of the Exchequer ( Mr. Perceval) observed, that the manner in which he (General Hill) had repulsed the French at the point of the bayonet was fresh in every one's memory. His Majesty, on this occasion, without any application on the part of his friends, was pleased, in testimony of his merit, to appoint him colonel of the 94th regiment of foot.
     The late battle of Arroyo de Molino, an account of which is stated in the despatches from Lieutenant-Gen. Hill, dated Freneda, 6th November, 1811, published in the London Gazette, together with all the proceedings in Parliament; where it was noticed in the Speech of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent, in the following terms: -   "The successful and brilliant enterprise, which terminated in the surprise, in Spanish Estremadura, of a French corps, by a detachment of the allied army, under Lieutenant-general Hill, is highly creditable to that distinguished officer, and to the troops under his command, and has contributed materially to obstruct the designs of the enemy in that part of the peninsula."
     Those despatches, so truly honourable to the general, together with the applause with which the people received them, and the effect they have had upon the opinion of the public, are, as we have observed, already so well known, that it is unnecessary to say more upon the subject, than that the commander of that day has added greatly to the laurels which he had before acquired ; and, therefore, it is the ardent wish of his country that they may long continue to flourish and to accumulate.  

Document Specifications:  A fine handwritten ALS letter signed by Major General Rowland Hill as Commander in Portalegre and dated December 26th 1811. Unfolded letter measures 6" tall x 8" wide (173mm x 220mm). On one folded sheet (forming four pages) of wove paper, watermarked "IVY MILL 1809", with general overall toning, heavy at top and some water marks. Writing on three pages as shown. This is a scarce handwritten letter by one of the most respected General Officers of the Peninsular War, as he attempts to relieve pressure both against Wellington to the north and Ballesteros to the south. This is an excellent opportunity to acquire an example of his hand and signature and which would handsomely enhance and help anchor a collection of Peninsular War Letters. Hill's autograph letters are considerably more scarce than Wellington's in the market place.

From the Sir Charles Stuart, Lord Rothesay Correspondence. Stuart was His Britannic Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Portugal during the greater part of the Peninsular War (10 January 1810 to 26 May 1814). He was a personal friend and confidante of Wellington and Nelson, a sitting member of the Portuguese Regency (the only British Subject in the war ever permitted to hold an official position in a foreign government while also representing Britain), and later ambassador to The Netherlands, Russia & France. The most important foreign diplomat of the Peninsular War, his archive of diplomatic, military and intelligence dispatches are second only to Wellington's Dispatches.

 Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd.
Member: APS, BNAPS, CCNY, ICSC, DMSC & SPHS

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