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Wilson, Sir Robert Thomas

WILSON, SIR ROBERT THOMAS (1777-1849), British general, was a son of the painter Benjamin Wilson (1721-1788), and obtained a commission in the isth light dragoons in 1794, taking part in the famous charge at Villers-en-Cauchics. He was one of eight officers who received the emperor's commemoration medal (of which only nine were struck), the order of Maria Theresa and the dignity of Freiherr of the Empire. In the campaigns of Tourcoing and Tournay and in the retreat through Holland, Wilson repeatedly distinguished himself. In 1796 he became captain by purchase, in 1798 he served as a brigade-major during the suppression of the Irish Rebellion, and in 1799 was with the i sth in the fielder expedition. Having in 1800 purchased a majority in a regiment serving in the Mediterranean he was sent on a military mission to Vienna in that year, but returned to take part in the battle of Alexandria. In 1802 he published an account of the expedition to Egypt, which was shortly afterwards translated into French, and created a considerable impression by its strictures upon French officers' barbarity. Wilson shortly afterwards produced a translation of General Regnier's work on the same campaign, with comments. Shortly afterwards Wilson published a work on the defects of the British army system which is remembered as the first protest against flogging. In 1804 he bought the colonelcy of the igth light dragoons, in 1805 exchanged into the 20th, and in 1806 served with the 20th in the Cape of Good Hope expedition. In 1807 he was employed as military attache of a mission to the king of Prussia, and so was present at Eylau, Heilsberg and Friedland, of which battles he published an account in 1810. Returning to England with despatches from St Petersburg he reached London before the Russian declaration of war and so gave the admiralty twenty-four hours' start in the operation at sea. In the early part of the Peninsular War Wilson raised and commanded the Lusitanian Legion, an irregular Portuguese corps which did good service in 1808 and 1809 and formed the starting-point of the new Portuguese army organized by Beresford in 1810. His services were rewarded by knighthood, a colonelcy in the British army and the Portuguese order of the Tower and Sword. In 1811, with the rank of brigadier-general, he went to Turkey, and in 1812 he travelled thence to Russia, where he was attached to Kutuzov's headquarters during the pursuit of the retreating French, being present at Malo-Jaroslavietz, Vyazma and Krasnoye. His account of the campaign, published in 1860, is one of the most valuable works on these events. He continued to serve with the Russian army during 1813 and distinguished himself at Liitzen and Bautzen, the emperor Alexander decorating him with the knighthood of the St George order on the battlefield. He was promoted major-general in the British army about the same time. He was at Dresden, Kulm and Leipzig, and distinguished himself at the last great battle so much that Schwarzenberg writing to the British ambassador at Vienna attributed to Wilson's skill a large part in the successful issue of the battle. But his services in the counsels of the Allies were still more important on account of the confidence reposed in him personally by the allied sovereigns. But Castlereagh, treating Wilson as a political opponent, removed him to the minor theatre of Italy, in spite of the protests of the British ambassador. With the Austrian Army of Italy he served through the campaign of 1814. In 1816 after Waterloo he contrived the escape of one of Napoleon's supporters, condemned to death by the Restoration government, and was imprisoned for three months with his comrade in this adventure, Captain HelyHutchinson (3rd earl of Donoughmore), and censured by the commander-in-chief in a general order. In 1817 he published The Military and Political Power of Russia, in 1818 he became member of parliament for Southwark and in 1821 he interposed between the mob and the troops on the occasion of Queen Caroline's funeral, for which his political opponents secured his dismissal from the army, without compensation for the price of his commissions. He took an active part in politics on the opposition side, and also spent some time in Spain during the wars of 1822-23. On the accession of William IV., his political services in the formation of the Canning ministry of 1827 were rewarded by reinstatement in the army with the rank of lieutenant-general. But, disapproving of the Reform bill, he resigned his place in the Commons. He was promoted general in 1.841 and appointed governor of Gibraltar in 1842. He died in London on the gth of May 1849.

Besides the works mentioned above, Wilson left a diary of his travels and experiences in 1812-1814, published in 1861, and an incomplete autobiography, published two years later.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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