Sir Colin Campbell (1792-1863) rose through the ranks of the British army to lead several key military campaigns, including the Battle of Balaklava and the Indian Mutiny. He was known for his cautious and logical strategies, which earned him respect and minimized casualties.
Colin Campbell was born in Glasgow, Scotland on October 20, 1792, the son of a carpenter and cabinet maker with the surname of Macliver. In the late eighteenth century, British military officers were generally drawn from the ranks of the aristocracy. Because of his humble origins, young Colin would normally have been barred from such a career. However, the maternal side of his family had aristocratic connections and an uncle was able to secure a commission for him in the Ninth Foot (Infantry) Regiment in 1802. His uncle registered the boy with the name of Campbell, a respected surname at the time. Young Colin kept the new name as his own.
Recognized for Bravery
By 1808, Campbell had become an ensign in the British army. During that year he set sail for Portugal and fought in the Peninsular War under Sir Arthur Wellesley and Sir John Moore. Campbell participated in a number of military campaigns and was recognized for bravery. He contracted malaria at this time, which would affect his health throughout the rest of his life. In 1809, Campbell served in an expedition to Walcheren. Between 1810 and 1813 he returned to the Peninsular War and earned distinctions at Barrosa (March 5, 1811), Vitoria (June 21, 1813), the siege of San Sebastian (July 25-August 31, 1813), and Bidassoa (October 7-8, 1813). He continued to serve until ordered to return to England to recover from three serious wounds, acquired during combat at San Sebastian during 1813. Campbell, who had already been wounded twice, rose to lead another battle, where he was wounded a third time.
By 1813, Campbell had been promoted to captain. He had also received a wound pension of 100 British pounds annually-considered significant at a time when monetary awards or promotions were usually reserved for the rich or noble-born. Campbell sailed to America in 1814 to fight in the last days of the War of 1812. His service there included the unsuccessful (from the British perspective) attack on New Orleans between December 1814 and January 1815. With the end of the War of 1812 and the defeat of Napoleon on European soil, the era of rapid military advancement was over. Campbell spent the next three decades serving garrison duty at various locations including Gibraltar, Barbados, and England. He also assisted in quenching the Demerara uprising that had erupted in British Guiana.
Brief Political Career
Campbell was promoted to major in 1825. Nine years later, he was appointed lieutenant governor of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Although Campbell was better suited to military service than to politics, he was well respected during his six-year tenure in the province. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and given command of the 9th Foot in 1835, after nearly 30 years of military service. His tenure as governor in Halifax ended in 1840. Political unrest had increased in the province, due in part to Campbell's belief that the inhabitants deserved more rights than they had received under his predecessor. The House of Assembly petitioned for Campbell's recall to military service. Two years later, with a promotion to colonel, he transferred to and commanded the 98th Foot, participating in the Opium War between 1841-1843. His service during this campaign gained him accolades and recognition for his leadership qualities and bravery. Campbell gradually became widely known to the British public.
Tenacious Leadership During Crimean War
Campbell was instrumental in leading military campaigns in India between 1848 to 1852. He served as a chief subordinate of General Sir Hugh Gough and fought at Chilianwala (January 13, 1849) and Gujarat (February 21, 1849), including the Second Sikh War between 1848 and 1849. Campbell was also highly recognized for his role as a major general in command of the Highland Brigade during the Crimean War. In preparing for this campaign, he demonstrated fierce determination and developed a well-planned strategy. The campaign reached a pinnacle on October 25, 1854 when his command -the 93rd Highlanders -faced off against enormous forces of Russian cavalry troops. Campbell told his troops that "There is no retreat from here, men! You must die where you stand!" Amazingly, the Highlanders held their position and defeated the oncoming Russian cavalry, in a military event which later became known as "the thin red line", or the Battle of Balaklava. Campbell's amazing performance served to enhance his status as a military hero in his homeland.
Restored British Dominance in Northern India
During 1857, Campbell was ordered to repress the Sepoy Mutiny in India. While he was criticized by some of his peers for being too cautious and was referred to as "Sir Crawling Camel" or "Old Careful," Campbell succeeded in putting down the mutiny with a minimum of British casualties. He recaptured Lucknow by November 16, 1857 and coordinated the withdrawal of British troops. Campbell led forces at Cawnpore III on December 6, 1857 and occupied Fategarh on January 6, 1858. By March 21, 1858, he had again captured Lucknow and dispatched a message with a pun stating "nunc fortunatus sum" or "I am in luck now". By 1859, Campbell had earned the rank of full general and reestablished British control over the entire northern part of the Indian subcontinent.
Recognition for Leadership
Campbell was rewarded for his Indian victory in 1858 with the title of Baron Clyde and an annual pension of 2,000 British pounds. He also received the official thanks of the houses of Parliament. In 1862, Campbell was named a field marshal.
Although Campbell appeared to be overly cautious in his military strategies, he was responsible for introducing new approaches. He stressed the importance of physical conditioning and mental health among his forces. He instigated workouts for physical fitness and made sure that lines of communication remained open among the men during stressful battle situations. Campbell kept abreast of the latest developments in artillery, and refined his strategies in leading formations. He used peace time to drill his troops, using field exercises in movement, formation, and reinforcement.
Campbell exhibited individuality and vision in his military strategy. While other commanders favored close range combat with bayonets, Campbell required that his men become proficient in musket marksmanship from a distance. He reasoned that battles could be fought as effectively in this fashion, but with less loss of life. When his soldiers at the Battle of Balaklava wanted to fight the Russians at extremely close range, Campbell angrily ordered his men to "damn that eagerness" of theirs. He held his position, using musket and artillery rather than close combat with bayonets.
After his celebrated service, Campbell was welcomed home as a hero in 1860. He died on August 14, 1863 at Chatham, England, after more than 50 years of distinguished military service. Campbell was buried at Westminster Abbey. He was known as a man who rose through the military ranks with sheer determination and tenacity, and produced victory at a relatively low cost of life. Campbell was remembered for his dedication to his men, his careful planning, and his ability to motivate.
Further Reading on Colin Campbell
Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson and John Fiske, Gale Research, 1968.
Buckland, C.E. Dictionary of Indian Biography, Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1906.
Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia, 2nd edition, edited by David Crystal, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Celebrities of the Century, A Dictionary of Men and Women of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Lloyd C. Sanders, Gryphon Books, 1971.
Chambers Biographical Dictionary, 6th edition, edited by Melanie Parry, Larousse plc, 1997.
Columbia Encyclopedia, Edition 5, 1993.
Dictionary of Biography, Past and Present, edited by Benjamin Vincent, Gale Research, 1974.
Dictionary of National Biography, Part One, From the Beginnings to 1900, Oxford University Press, 1953.
Dupuy, Trevor N., Curt Johnson, and David L. Bongard. Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, HarperCollins Publishers, 1992.
Historical Dictionary of the British Empire, edited by James S.Olson and Robert Shadle, Greenwood Press, 1996.
Keegan, John, and Andrew Wheatcroft. Who's Who in Military History from 1453 to the Present Day, William Morrow & Co. Inc., 1976.
Lanning, Michael Lee. The Military 100, A Ranking of the Most Influential Military Leaders of all Time, Carol Publishing Group, 1996.
Lincoln Library of Social Studies, 8th edition, Frontier Press, 1978.
Mageli, Paul D., and David L Bongard, Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, 1992.
Merriam-Webster's Biographical Dictionary, May, 1995.
Thorne, J.O., and T.C. Collocott, Chambers Biographical Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 1986.