The Most Noble Charles
ETC, ETC, ETC.
(31st December, 1738 – 5th October 1805)
THIS distinguished military commander, the lustre of whose character shone among the most brilliant
of a preceding generation, and the importance of whose services occupied a large share of public honor and respect.
was the son of an ancient and noble family. Lineally descended from Thomas Cornwalleys, who was sheriff of London
in 1378, and settled at Brome, one of his ancestors was raised to the peerage in 1627. His father Charles, the
fifth baron, was, in 1753, created also Viscount Brome and Earl Cornwallis He dying in 1762, was succeeded by the
subject of this memoir, who, born 31st December, 1738, was consequently twenty-four years of age at the period of
Destined from his infancy to the profession of a soldier, in which several of his progenitors had
risen to high reputation, Charles entered the army at an early age; and his promotion was so rapid, that, when only
twenty years old, we find him, as Lord Brome, holding a captain's commission in Colonel Crauford's regiment of
light infantry. In 1761, he accompanied the celebrated Marquis of Granby to the continent, as a confidential
Aid-de-camp, and fought by his side in the German campaign. Under him, and the other renowned generals of the day,
he studied the art of war, and became acquainted with its practice in the field. He was soon appointed
Lient.-Colonel of the 12th regiment of foot, and elected member of parliament for the borough of Rye. This
representation he, however, vacated on the death of his father; and took his seat, of course, as Earl Cornwallis,
in the upper house. In 1765, he was nominated one of the Lords of the Bedchamber; and, as a farther mark of royal
favour, an Aid-de-camp to his Majesty. Nevertheless, his political conduct was independent and uncourtly ; for he
frequently voted with the opposition, and, on one memorable occasion, stood in a minority of five, who dissented
from the bill to secure the legislative power of Great Britain over the American colonies. In 1766, he was promoted
to the Colonelcy of the 33d foot, which, during after years, he commanded in the unfortunate struggle with America,
and held till the day of his death. Previously to the breaking out of this contest, he had married Miss Jones,
daughter of James Jones, Esq. by whom he had a son and a daughter ; and of whom it is related, that she died of a
broken heart, in consequence of the departure of her beloved husband for that scene, whither his duty called him,
overbearing all her fond entreaties and influence.
In America, his Lordship acted as Major-General, under Sir William Howe, and proved himself to be
an active and skilful officer. In November 1776, he landed with a detached corps on the Jersey shore; and,
discovering that Fort Lee was abandoned, advanced into the country, and took possession of the province. The
disastrous reverse of Trentown prevented his visiting England, as he proposed, at the end of the campaign; and in
consequence of that event he returned from New York, to resume his military toils. In 1777, after some enterprising
affairs, he evacuated the Jerseys, in obedience to General Howe's orders, and in July embarked with the
Commander-in-chief on the Chesapeake expedition. In several of the subsequent actions, his Lordship took a
prominent part. At the passage of the Brandy-Wine he was at the head of a considerable body of troops; and having
succeeded in driving the enemy before him, he entered Philadelphia as a conqueror. From that time (24th September,
17770 till 1779, when he embarked in the rank of Lieutenant-General with Sir Henry Clinton, for the siege of
Charlestown, he had no opportunities for the display of his talents. On the surrender of Charlestown, he occupied
South Carolina with a body of about 4,000 men ; and in October fought a smart battle with General Gates, at the
head of a superior force, animated by the recollection of the capture of Burgoyne. Here the British bayonet decided
the fortune of the day: the enemy were beaten, and pursued many miles, leaving seven pieces of cannon, the greater
portion of their baggage, and a thousand prisoners, in the hands of the victors.
Early in 1781, Lord Cornwallis having formed a junction with the American General Arnold, who had
come over to the royalist side, endeavoured to bring his opponents, under the famous La Fayette, to action ; but
they retreated towards the back settlements with so much celerity, that the attempt was altogether fruitless. It
seems that Sir Henry Clinton, then apprehensive about New York, blamed the pursuit as imprudent ; which led to a
coolness, and subsequently to a public dispute, between him and Lord Cornwallis. Soon after this, as is well known,
Lord Cornwallis was compelled to capitulate, with his force at York Town, to the combined American and French army,
under Washington and Rochambeau.
Upon this disastrous event, Lord Cornwallis returned home ; and, during the flagrant political
warfare of 1782-3, he was deprived of the Lieutenancy of the Tower of London, to which he had been appointed
several years before. and to which he was restored in 1784.
Some years of peace and repose ensued; but India now attracted a deep interest, from the cloud
which hung over that vast peninsula, and the critical condition of the British empire there. A man fit to undertake
the arduous charge being wanted, Earl Cornwallis was chosen to be Governor-General of Bengal. Scarcely had he
reached India, when the celebrated war with Tippoo Saib commenced. At first the Madras government carried on the
contest ; but it was soon perceived that the Governor-General himself was required in the field, to oppose the
immense and well-organized army of the Sultan ; and accordingly his Lordship repaired to the scene of action on the
12th of December, 1790. A judicious feint, by Vellore, deceived Tippoo ; and the Anglo-Indian army, marching
rapidly to the Mugloo pass, penetrated to Bangalore, without experiencing any important opposition. Bangalore was
invested, and fell, in the face of the Sultan's army drawn up on the heights. Lord Cornwallis then resolved to
proceed against Seringapatam, the capital of Tippoo's dominions ; within sight of which he arrived on the 13th of
May, but it was found impossible to attempt its siege at this period. Our battering train was therefore destroyed,
and the army retired to Bangalore. Early the next spring, the causes which had prevented the investment of
Seringapatam having been removed, the British army once more appeared before that place, and forced the enemy to
retreat from his strongly entrenched camp. Untoward events, however, over which our commander had no control, again
intervened to retard its reduction ; and Lord Cornwallis was content to dictate terms to the Sultan, instead of
utterly subduing him. Money and territory were the price of this treaty ; and two of Tippoo's sons were confided to
the care of Lord Cornwallis, as hostages for its punctual fulfilment.
The war thus honorably terminated, his Lordship proceeded to England ; and on the 15th of August,
1792, was advanced to a Marquisate, under the title of Marquis Cornwallis. The illustrious Order of the Garter had
been previously bestowed upon him : he was also admitted a Member of the Privy Council, and, in addition to his
other high and efficient appointments, was nominated to the important office of Master-General of the Ordnance.
It might have been hoped, that a life so long devoted to services of the most trying kind, and to
duties of the highest national responsibility, would now have been allowed a season of honored quiet. But the
exigencies of the state, at no distant period, again needed the directing intelligence of such a man as Lord
Cornwallis. The unhappy situation of Ireland, alluded to in another memoir in our present number, full of
turbulence and disaffection within, and threatened by external invasion, demanded the care of an experienced
statesman, the firmness of an accomplished soldier, and, above all, the humanity of a superior mind. All these were
happily united in his Lordship, who, in 1799, as Lord-Lieutenant and Commander of the Forces, not only put down
rebellion, and made prisoners of an invading enemy, but acquired an imperishable glory by the conciliatory wisdom
and mercy of his measures. He restored the country to tranquillity, and reaped the universal gratitude and applause
of the kingdom.
In 1804, Lord Cornwallis was a second time appointed Governor-General of India, whither he went ;
but he did not long enjoy the eminent distinction. He died in that station on the 5th of October, 1805, thus
terminating a valuable life, which for more than half a century had been ardently devoted to the public service, in
the most distant parts of the world, and often in trusts of the most momentous nature.
His Lordship was succeeded by his son, the second Marquis, on whose death, in 1823, the Marquisate became extinct,
and the earldom reverted to his brother James.