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Sir Thomas Picton

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Sir Thomas Picton, GCB, 1758-1815.  British lieutenant general.  Scarce Autograph Letter Signed, Th Picton, four pages (recto and verso), 8" x 10", with integral leaf attached, Almedilla, Spain, April 13, [1811].

This is an exceptional military content letter in which Picton, one of the Duke of Wellington's top commanders in the Peninsular War and later at the Battle of Waterloo, writes from Spain of the progress of the war in Portugal and Spain, on the Iberian peninsula.  He speaks of Wellington, the siege of the French army, his disappointment with the Spanish, and the attrition in the Portuguese army, which brings "scarcely . . . 20,000 bayonets into the field."  In part:  

This letter is written as you will not fail to observe from Spain.  We have effectively driven the French out of Portugal, with the single exception of Almeida (where they have a small garrison) which we have invested but cannot besiege for want of battering cannon; but as it is entirely cut off from any possible communication with the French Army in Spain, it must submit in the course of a few weeks.  Whilst we have been employed in pursuing Massena, the rascally Spaniards took an opportunity of treacherously giving the enemy possession of Badajoz, which obliged Lord Wellington, in the midst of his movements after Massena, to detach Sir W. C. Beresford, and a principal division of the Army, consisting of 16 British regiments, and nearly as many Portuguese battalions, to oppose Marshal Mortier who is now shut up in Badajoz with about 5000.  If he succeeds in compelling him to surrender, as we confidently hope he will, the business of Portugal will be completely settled for sometime; but from all I have seen of the Spaniards I have little, indeed, no hope of their ever being able to do anything.

      . . . .

     Nothing can be worst than the existing government of this country, and unless the Principe Regente of Portugal determines to get rid of all the rascally factions, by appointing Lord Wellington Vice Regent, with full powers to administer the government everything will shortly be as bad as ever here.  The Portuguese army, for want of being properly recruited is rapidly falling off every day.  They scarcely bring 20,000 bayonets into the field now, and in course of another year they will not bring 12,000 unless some more effectual mode of executing the existing laws, be had recourse to.

Unconventional and uncouth, Picton was one of the best of the senior officers working with the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsula.  He proved himself time and again as commander of the 3rd “Fighting" Division. At Fuentes de Onoro, Badajoz, and Vitoria he won admiration for his courage, if not his manners,  which  reflected an irascible temperament. Wellington described him as “a rough-mouthed devil,” but one in whom he had supreme confidence.  In 1813 he was knighted and promoted to lieutenant general.

Joining Wellington again in 1815, Picton led the 5th Division at Quatre Bras, where he was wounded during the battle. Fearing that he would be replaced, Picton concealed his injury and retained command of his troops.  Two days later, during the Battle of Waterloo, Picton was shot through the temple by a musket ball as his unit repulsed a strong enemy attack.  He was the highest ranking British casualty at Waterloo.

Picton's autograph material is scarce, and this is an excellent example of it.  The letter has mailing folds and some minor paper loss, with pencil notations at the upper right of the first page, but overall is in fine to very fine condition.




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